I was excited to receive the Gravel Adventure Bike Camp invite from my close childhood friend, Dr. Wayne Centrone. I had last seen him nearly 30 years ago when I assisted with his move from Tallahassee to Panama City, Florida. Wayne and I had virtually linked up a few years ago through our mutual friend, Brian. The Camp provided an opportunity for the three of us to reconnect, while also supporting HBI’s Casa Girasoles Sanos group homes. These are residences where a Peruvian team of professionals provide formerly abandoned boys a stable home environment.
I shared the news of the Camp with my family, and was pleasantly surprised when my college student son, Nate, expressed interest in joining the adventure. Nate and I have a pretty good relationship, but past military requirements have caused me to miss some of his special childhood to early adulthood moments. We bond through our mutual love of soccer, and we planned on sharing our love of the sport with the Casa Girasoles boys. I was hoping (and perhaps he, too) that this adventure would be a nice bonding experience for both of us.
Karen greeted us at the Lima airport early morning of November 2 and took us to the HBI headquarters to decompress and meet Wayne. Memories flooded my thoughts as I heard his voice and laughter. He’s still my only friend who calls me by my full name! We shared memories and inside jokes over the course of the Camp, and we agreed to visit Brian in New Orleans (alas, a bad back kept him from this adventure).
Nate and I are not avid cyclists – certainly not in the same realm as our other camp adventurers. My wife and I bike once or twice a week, with the primary goal of caloric expenditure equal to the pizza or beer we consume after the ride! Fortunately, there was minimal pressure and what mattered was the effort we gave throughout the ride.
But it was the connections we made with the Casa Girasoles boys that were most memorable. Nate and I purchased five soccer balls for the boys to use in their games. We also gave them cool World Cup sticker books and wall posters for them to track the matches and their favorite players. Nate’s age and easy demeanor made it easy to relate with the boys, as he cycled and played soccer (the international common language!) with them on a daily basis.
At the end of each day, Nate and I would discuss our experiences. We were both very inspired that the boys were so well-mannered, well-spoken, and well-adjusted, considering the many hardships they have experienced. It’s clear that the Casa Girasoles program is a Center of Excellence with the way it encourages communities to offer services that help youth access the quality caregiving they deserve. That’s only a small part of the equation, though. The Casa Girasoles program is successful mainly because of the boys who continue to eagerly work toward learning and self-development, and the dedicated, loving, and caring Casa Girasoles team.
You can join us and #BeTheBridge between Peruvian youth and the services and support they need by donating here.