Now in its twelfth year, the ride, which has undergone numerous changes but still remains focused on helping refugees and vulnerable people in Canada and abroad, is set to return to Elmira October 3.
“It began in 2004 in Elmira,” organizer Mika Takamaki explained. “International Teams (IT), who have been in Elmira for a long time, one of the areas that they serve is among refugees, so in 2004, IT began a new event to raise funds and awareness for their work among refugees and they called it the Ride for Refugees. And in year one they had about 20 participants and some started in Kitchener, but the rest of us began in Elmira. The group that started from the refugee home called Welcome Home in Kitchener did a 100-kilometre route, while the rest of us did a 25-km route and we all ended up in Elmira.”
The following year, the number of participants doubled. The next year, registrations doubled again. Organizers knew they had a good thing going.
“We realized at IT that we kind of had a ceiling to grow the event just for our own charity,” Takamaki said. “So in 2007, we invited other churches and charities who also serve refugees, to be a part of the ride, and to bring in their own participants and we would share the funds.”
For the next three years, that formula worked really well, Takamaki said. In 2010, they decided to open the event up even further, changing the name of the event to the Ride for Refuge and calling on groups that support exploited, vulnerable or displaced persons to join in.
Again, the expansion was a big success.
Last year, 2,700 participants took part in 27 cities across North America, raising some $1.9 million dollars for 200 partner charities.
The biggest ride was right here in Woolwich Township, with 1,200 people starting their 10-, 25- and 50-km rides at the Koinonia Christian Fellowship in Bloomingdale
“The fact that this region has been so generous has helped our charity grow to the point where we could expand the ride to other cities across Canada,” Takamaki said, noting the region raised some $350,000 for the cause last year. “It’s kind of neat that not only does the Waterloo Region do so much for charities in this area, but because of that generosity, we have been able to expand to Vancouver and Victoria and Halifax and help support charities in other parts of the country as well.”
Blue Sea Philanthropy now looks after the organizational duties for the event.
“A number of us involved in it split off from International Teams to form our own charity and we do a couple of events a year,” Takamaki explained. “So what (Blue Sea Philanthropy) does is we recruit volunteer teams in cities throughout Canada and the United States. … The local teams in each city organize the local event. They’ll map out the routes, they’ll take care of registration, they’ll post the signs and provide the meal. And our charity, we provide the website, the promotional materials, the website, the T-shirts and so the entire fundraising event is fully organized. Then we invite charities to become partners, and when a charity becomes a partner to the event, their single focus is to recruit participants.”
Funds are raised through pledges and donations through their website, www.rideforrefuge.org.