A straight private-wealth manager from Bergen County, N.J., might seem like an unlikely candidate to get involved in a charity bike ride to benefit New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. When my 17-year-old daughter first emailed him, I'm not entirely sure he knew what the L, G, B and T stood for, but that didn't stop my daughter from asking him, and it didn't stop Bill from listening.
Here's what Kit knew. Bill is a nice guy; Bill manages our money; Bill is very engaged in philanthropy and runs a small Bergen County foundation helping families in need, and Bill loves to ride cycle. After hearing Kit rave about her internship at the center and all the good work going on there, Bill was in. He was not new to charity bike rides and had always wanted to ride from Boston to New York, so Kit had her first recruit for Cycle for the Cause.
Kit learned an awful lot during her internship at the center, but for a guy like Bill, for whom AIDS is not and never was front-page news, and who doesn't know a ton of gay people, the life lessons continued throughout the weekend -- and beyond.
He heard the stories of his fellow riders, his tribe. They rode for themselves and for friends, each more than happy to talk to him about why the ride means so much. Bill asked ach of them, "What's so special about the center?" Over and over, he heard the same answer: The Center literally saves peoples' lives.
Frank was Bill's breakfast date every morning. He told Bill that his father died of AIDS in the early '80s. Frank connected with the center later in life when he came out, and again when he needed assistance overcoming substance abuse. Between the HIV and AIDS prevention programming and support services that could have helped his dad, and the helping hand that the center extended to Frank during his darkest hour, he has seen the center save lives -- including his own. If not for the ride, Bill's and Frank's paths would not have crossed. Instead, Frank's story welcomed Bill into a community he never really knew and informed him on an epidemic that has stolen so many.
Others on the ride told Bill about the center's youth programing, which gives kids a safe space where they can be themselves and celebrate who they are instead of hiding it. As the father of four very special daughters, and as someone who has also experienced the loss of a son, this hit Bill in a profound way. Bill saw that he had something profoundly in common with the center: a commitment to creating a loving, supportive environment for children that allows them to grow surrounded by acceptance and happiness instead of heartache.
Over three days and 275 miles, the real lesson for Bill hit home. He was really no different from anyone else on this ride. Each person on the ride was bound by a common thread. Bill and his new tribe had joined a mission to help keep the center going and secure that "home away from home" that the center has become for so many.
The ride and the stories and passion of his new tribe ignited Bill. Once Bill is fired up, he is ready to go. And so he dismounted his bike and helped secure an additional $50,000 to support the ride, bringing the total raised by Cycle for the Cause over the $500,000 mark.
My 17-year-old had a remarkable experience as an intern, and with Bill's recent gift it's clear that she may have a future in fundraising. (To learn about how she did it, click here.) As for Bill, he is a new ambassador -- a "straight arrow, "as his buddies called him -- who understands that the fight for a cure for AIDS, the fight for LGBT youth and all the good work of the center demands that all of us, gay and straight, travel together side by side to continue to fight the good fight.
Of the hundred or so riders, only a handful were straight. Bill is already signed up for next year. (So can you, by clicking here.) I'm betting he'll be bringing some other straight arrows with him. We need all hands on deck.