Going all the way: Man travels more than 3,000 miles to promote court programs
After spending the last three months riding his bicycle over 3,000 miles and through seven states, Chris Dieringer’s ride will come to an end today, with Putnam County playing a pivotal role.
Dieringer, 62, embarked on the coast-to-coast journey — which has taken him through deserts, small towns and campsites — to promote awareness for Guardian ad Litem and Court Appointed Special Advocates programs, which represent children in dependency court.
On Feb. 28, Dieringer dipped his front tire into the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, and he has spread the word for child advocates every day since.
“Since I have retired, I have tried to seek out challenges for myself, whether physical or mental. One of them was joining CASA and becoming an advocate,” Dieringer said Friday. “I thought to do a ride like this and to share it with others would just make it bigger (and) make it more impactful. So I thought this was a great way to raise awareness.”
Dieringer will complete the last leg of his journey this morning after traveling to Putnam County via the Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail on Thursday.
Riders can join Dieringer at 8 a.m. at the St. Johns River Center, 102 N. 1st St. in Palatka, as he embarks on the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail. From there he will ride to Crescent Beach, where he will dip his tire into the Atlantic Ocean and end his journey.
Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Recruiter Sarah Carrigan said there is a large need in Putnam County and other nearby areas for child advocates. This makes it all the more special that Dieringer is finishing his ride in these communities, she said.
There are over 1500 children in the foster system in St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia Counties, with almost 500 without a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, according to Guardian ad Litem.
Through his cross-country ride on the southern tier cycling route, Dieringer has spread the word about the importance of child advocate programs. Countless people from various communities have played host to Dieringer, and in return they became informed about a worthy cause.
“After I give them some of the specifics and then talk about the CASA program itself, they understand that this is a need,” he said. “Maybe not the most visible need that is out there, but it is something people recognize that is real and children are important.”
Carrigan said the cross-country trip has helped immensely in terms of promoting the importance of the programs in communities. The programs are vital, she said, because the children who benefit from it are among the most vulnerable people in the community.
“To have an advocate through our programs say, ‘I am here for you.’ Is how these children have a better chance of graduating high school, of eking out a life (and) of finding their talents and finding their gifts,” Carrigan said.
“It brings attention to the cause,” said Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director Shirley Holland. “It brings attention to a volunteer’s generosity and his commitment to do good things for the children we serve – whether we serve them in New York, Texas or Florida.”
As Dieringer prepares for the bittersweet end to a mission which has consumed his life for the last three months, he has been able to reflect on the area he is ending it in.
In Putnam County, he said he has seen a community who clearly cares about the well-being of children in foster care. He has also found the perfect location to have his cycling finale.
“The work Putnam has done putting (the trail system) together is just tremendous and is such a valuable resource for anyone who rides a bike,” he said. “I can tell you, it is just a joy. ... It is really special.”