The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, in coordination with Point72 Asset Management, is organizing its sixth annual RIDE For Our Veterans — an event that brings together students, citizens and veterans on a summer day for a bike ride in support of the CVLC.
In its first iteration, the event was simply an informal bike ride organized by local resident Len Miller. In 2012, on Miller’s 70th birthday, he challenged five of his friends to commit to riding their bikes from Stamford to Essex — a route just over 100 miles long. Miller reached out to the CVLC to ensure that the $20,000 the group of friends had raised would help the center in its work aiding veterans. Since then, the event has developed further and gained momentum, growing from 34 riders who raised about $85,000 in 2014 to just over 100 riders who raised over $200,000 last year.
This year, the race will take place on June 17 and will feature a 25-mile race, in addition to 50- and 100-mile races. Families can also choose to sign up for a 5K “friendly” run and walk. Those not looking to exercise on race day can also volunteer at the event.
As the only charity bike ride that directly benefits Connecticut veterans, the RIDE For Our Veterans is one of the most important events the CVLC holds, and it raises nearly one-third of the center’s annual budget. CVLC Executive Director Margaret Middleton said all proceeds go toward providing free legal representation to military veterans recovering from homelessness and serious mental illnesses. In partnership with the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System, the CVLC uses these funds to help veterans obtain disability compensation, housing, health care and a steady income.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the most satisfying part is when we can help a veteran who’s making a really positive change in their own life succeed,” Middleton said. “That’s why we’re here. That’s the point.”
Recalling one such veteran, Middleton cited former Navy electrician Robert Stokes, who faced potential eviction from his landlord after months of unpaid rent. At 54 years old, Strokes suffered from symptoms of acute anxiety and was hospitalized after finding out that he faced a financially unfeasible repayment schedule or eviction. It was through the joint efforts of the CVLC and the VACHS that he was able to stay in his home and, more importantly, get the clinical aid he needed, Middleton said.
Success stories like these, however, do not come without considerable work and a robust workforce that brings Yale and New Haven together, said Cara Cancelmo, director of development and communications at the CVLC. With approximately 2,000 clients with median incomes of $14,544, the CVLC depends almost entirely on private donations, grants, fundraisers and volunteers.
Hedy Gutfreund ’18, a coordinator for the Dwight Hall Urban Fellows at Yale, has interned at the CVLC since November 2015 to help with projects like the RIDE For Our Veterans. An urban fellow herself, Gutfreund has assisted with outreach to sponsors and potential donors, as well as communication and marketing for events. It is with the help of people like Gutfreund, Cancelmo said, that the event is able to bridge the gap between Yale and New Haven.
“I think that the RIDE is an easy way to support a nonprofit that’s doing good work and to understand more about this community that you’re living in and understand what the working, living people are doing with themselves,” Cancelmo said “Yale is here — but homeless veterans are here too. Lawyers who want to help them are here, too. It’s an easy thing to connect the two worlds.”
As of September 2015, the most recent month for which data is available, Connecticut had a total veteran population of 206,549.
Correction, March 8: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the race will take place on July 17, when in fact it is on June 17. Also, it misidentified Hedy Gutfreund ’18 as a volunteer at the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center when in fact she is an intern.