Hope Arrives by Bike: Ehlert’s Mission to Help At-Risk Youth ‘Discover Your Path’
When Noah Ehlert was a troubled kid, someone gave him a bike – and it changed his life. Now, he’s planning to ride his bike across the country – and give hope and motivation to hundreds of at-risk youth he’ll be talking to along the way.
For Noah, it’s the right time in his life to give back. That’s why he’s established the Discover Your Path Tour with an online and social media presence. Donations made online now at https://www.discoveryourpathtour.com/ will help him make a February 1 through April 1, 2020 bike trip that will take him from California to Florida, visiting more than 30 group homes along the way. He’s also posting news about his trip on Facebook and Instagram @discoveryourpathtour
The Guilford resident and his wife, Julianna, have a successful wedding photography business – Tiny Human Photography – that they started up in Brooklyn, NY nine years ago. They moved to Guilford in 2015 with their daughter, Avery (now 7 years old), and have added sons Baidis, age three, and Bennett, who is one, to the family in the ensuing years. It’s the perfect, stable life Noah longed for as a kid.
Now, by riding across the country and sharing his story with kids who may not see themselves living in such a positive future, he hopes he can help make a difference in their lives.
Noah knows how kids in group homes are thinking because he was once one of those kids. As child in a single parent home, issues including a parent coping with addiction impacted him from a very young age.
“For me, it was a very unconventional, rougher start,” says Noah.
As a youth, he was missing school and getting involved in negative habits. By his early teens, he was a runaway, living in Florida (his extended family lived in Wisconsin).
“That landed me in a group home shelter,” he says. “After that, I was quickly moved back to Wisconsin, where the same type of negative lifestyle pursued; until I met a friend, and his mother decided to give me one of his old bikes.”
Noah was about 13 at the time.
“I just turned that bicycle into a positive distraction and a positive focus in my life,” he recalls. “It just really kind of took over after that — I just rode my bike all the time. It gives you those positive exercise endorphins; and a kind of a meditative state to clear your mind. You don’t think about your troubling home life.”
As a teen, Noah began competing as a cyclist – and won his very first race. As he’s since learned, just as negativity can spiral things downward in one’s life; positivity can snowball and build successes. As Noah says, “confidence builds on confidence.”
“Winning my first race was a giant confidence builder, and I finally asked my grandparents if I could move in with them, and start a new, stable life. And they agreed – so that was another step towards confidence and motivation in my life. And then, I was in a stable high school after that,” says Noah, who hadn’t spent an entire year in school until he was a sophomore.
Noah never forgot it all started because someone gave him a bike.
“It was just the polar opposite of where I was before I had the bicycle,” he says. “So I really attribute a lot of success in my life to finding that positive outcome. That’s exactly what I want to do with the Discover Your Path Tour. If you talk to somebody, and you give them a boost of confidence at the right time in their life, it’s most likely going to change the outcome of the entire rest of their life. It’s just saying what they need to hear, when they need to hear it.”
Converging Paths in Guilford
To many Guilford residents familiar with “Wishing Wheels,” Noah’s story seems to be the embodiment of that program’s mission. Wishing Wheels was established in Guilford in 2017 by the Bishop-DellaVentura families as component of their local non-profit, Roots4Relief (www.roots4relief.com). Each year, Wishing Wheels raises funds, then holds a community bike-building event, then gives away dozens of brand-new bikes to at-risk kids at Christmas.
Not too long ago, Noah was sharing his story with some of his Guilford neighbors when he first began hearing about Wishing Wheels; and was drawn to reach out to John DellaVentura. Now, the two are friends who are supporting each other’s charitable programs.
“When I started planning the Discover Your Path Tour, I was talking to a lot of people, telling them what I was going to do with the cross-country bike trip; and one of the first people that came to many of their minds was John DellaVentura and the Wishing Wheels program,” says Noah.
“My opening line to John was, ‘I am the direct result of what your charity stands for, and what your charity is trying to do for kids,’” Noah recalls. “We connected right away. He wants to help me out; they want to see my bike tour succeed; and I want to help them out – so the idea was, let’s work together.”
When Wishing Wheel’s 2019 online fundraising effort went live on November 11, (www.Facebook.com/roots4relief/) Noah was first in line to donate, he says. Donations to the 2019 Wishing Wheels effort are being accepted online and at Bishop’s Orchards Farm Market through assembly day, which is set for Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Little Red Barn at Bishop’s Orchards.
Noah says he will be there.
“Me and my family will be helping build bikes,” says Noah. “I think John is even planning on giving me a little time to talk to the people there.”
Noah says he’d likely share a bit about why he’s on his mission; and what it’s like for kids growing up without a supportive environment.
“It’s tough, because a lot of kids in these situations – and I know it from personal experience – you make some poor decisions, and you get labeled as a bad kid. And just like positivity compounds and snowballs in positivity, the same thing happens in a negative aspect,” he says. “So when these kids are being told they’re bad kids, they think that’s all they can accomplish. People don’t look inside the bubble and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t just them — this stems from situations and trauma they’ve had to deal with in their life.’ So when these kids are given a chance; or, with Wishing Wheels, when they’re given a bike; they’re given something to give their life direction.”
Talking to At-Risk Kids
While he’s not taking off on his bike tour until February, Noah has already flown to Florida to visit kids living at group homes supported by one of his partners in the effort, Family Resources Inc. (www.familyresourcesinc.org). The Florida-based non-profit is lining up every group home visit he’ll make during his bike tour.
“Family Resources is who I’m riding for – it’s the charity that has the shelter that I was in when I was a kid,” says Noah. “So when I wanted to do this, that’s where I went. I said, ‘I was a kid here; will you guys help me facilitate this dream?’ And they have. They’ve been in contact with all the other group homes that I’m going to speak at. Logistically, they’re getting all of that taken care of for me.”
He’s also teamed with another non-profit, Comfort Cases (www.comfortcases.org), after its founder learned about Noah’s tour and reached out to see how he could assist.
“The founder was a foster kid when he was young. He gives speeches to kids in care and he came up with Comfort Cases to end trash bags – because when these kids are moved from home to home, a police officer comes in and puts the things that they care about in a trash bag. And what is more deflating to a kid that’s feeling rejected and unwanted, than to take the things they care about and throw it in a trash bag when they move them to the next place?” asks Noah. “So what he’s doing for kids is the same thing I’m talking about; to empower youth and make them feel like they matter.”
Comfort Cases will give a case to every youth at every group home Noah visits on his tour. In fact, cases are already being distributed; at group homes in Florida where Noah has been giving advance talks.
Noah’s says he’s thankful to Family Resources Inc. for letting him come out to speak with kids now, as a way to begin to embrace the emotional side of the work he’ll be doing when he’s on his bike tour. Compared to that emotional hurdle, Noah says the 2,000 miles he logged this summer, and the continuing training he’s doing to ready himself physically for the cross-country bike tour, is nothing.
“I feel like my biggest challenge is going to be the emotional toll; when I’m talking to kids that I really identify with their background. And I think that’s the hardest thing I’m trying to wrap my head around,” says Noah, who will give talks at three more group homes this week, when he travels to Florida for another visit.
“I’m hoping, after that repetition, I’ll be able to handle my emotions better, and realize these kids got the message,” he says, adding, “And that meaningful message, when it comes from a stranger – when it comes from a person that you don’t think has relevance in your life; but they’re giving you the time, they’re giving you the feeling that you’re worthy – it just changes how you see yourself. I want them to think, ‘Well if this guy can do it; I should be able to do it.’ That’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”
On the Road
Once he gets on his bike in California and starts his tour to reach Florida, Noah says he’s anticipating riding in all weather.
“The mentality there is we’ll take it as it comes,” he says of himself and his two-man crew. “We can’t take sick days. We can’t take days off for rain. We just have to muscle through. I think it’s a small thing; compared to some of the things that some of the kids are going through. And I want to show them that, with perseverance, you can do it. The big statement is that, just like a rainy day on our bike ride, the situation that they find themselves stuck in, in this group home, is not their entire life. It’s a moment that they can get through, and they will get through, and they just need to try to find a positive way to get through it.”