This article originally appeared in August-September ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.
Sometimes inspiration can come from the strangest of places. For David Yewell, it was the backside of the men’s restroom door at a Nike shop in Chicago, where the words “There is no finish line” caught him eye-level as he exited. Since then, that phrase has become his personal motto and the mantra for the hundreds of runners, cyclists, and walkers who raise money each year for St. Joseph’s Peace Mission for Children by “TREK”ing 13 miles (or 20 if they choose) from Calhoun to the Yewell family’s home in West Louisville.
Having completed the TREK twice myself, I can tell you the route passes through some of the most beautiful backroads and landscapes in Western Kentucky, which is part of the appeal of the experience.
It has become the tradition to have a local “celebrity guest” officially begin the TREK, but this year there was no celebrity guest, as all the participants were special guests of honor for the 20-year reunion.
The Genesis of the TREK
As Yewell recalls, “This all started about the time I turned 50. I would walk from the river at McLean County to my home, around 13 miles, somewhere around my birthday as a gift to myself to meditate and give thanks for being on this earth another year.”
The experience was too good to keep to himself, so he invited some friends, who agreed the experience was too good to keep to themselves, as well. At that point, they decided to attach the event to a cause, and the TREK for St. Joseph’s Peace Mission was born. The group incorporated TREK as a 501(c)(3) charity in support of the Peace Mission.
“Remember the story of Saul on the road to Emmaus, well that’s sort of what happened,” Yewell said of the TREK’s beginning. “This came from above. I could never have created this – just sat down and dreamt it up. It was the spirit leading us.”
Being on the St. Joseph’s Peace Mission Board of Directors, Judge Jay Wethington was also involved in the TREK early on, and says he’s thrilled to have watched the event become so popular. “The TREK has been the focal point of the Peace Mission for the community every year. It’s very invigorating to the board. The TREK does a tremendous job of keeping the Peace Mission in people’s minds throughout the year.”
Most of that original group of friends is still involved, and the group has evolved into a much, much larger group of supporters over the past 20 years, all culminating in this year’s 20th TREK.
And so it was that on June 11, 2017, several hundred participants gathered at the riverfront in Calhoun to pause and give thanks, to enjoy their TREK, and to support the Peace Mission with their donation.
One of the interesting things about the TREK is that you can make the journey be whatever you want it to be. Some people walk or run one or two miles. A few run the full 13. Some bike riders take an additional loop through the countryside to make a 20-mile route. There are three refreshment stops along the route, and at any point you can catch a ride on a shuttle to the picnic at the Yewell’s.
This year, participants stayed and lingered a little longer, mingling and trying to find themselves in the framed photo collage that Executive Director Paula Yevincy presented to David with a word of appreciation for coordinating the TREK all these years. With a crew handling the grill and another crew serving hungry TREKers, a live DJ added to the celebratory atmosphere by providing music for the “country, good-time fellowship.”
What’s next for the TREK? The long-term goal, according to Yewell, is to one day have three homes at the Peace Mission, forming a children’s community modeled after the Home of the Innocents in Louisville, which would provide medical and dental care, as well as educational opportunities to the young people living at the Peace Mission. In another 20 years, that just might become a reality.
Yewell pushes the TREK all year long. Although he’s never been on the Peace Mission board, he says he sees his role as “cheerleader.” It’s an obvious passion for Yewell, and it doesn’t take much to get him fired up talking about the kids at the Mission.
“All you have to do is go down there and look into their eyes. They gravitate toward you. Every time I go in there, they want to sit down and talk. They love that attention.”
St. Joseph’s Peace Mission for Children is a crisis home for neglected or abused children who are referred by the court system or brought to the shelter because there is nowhere else for them to go. The Peace Mission provides children and sibling groups in need with a safe and nurturing home environment.
“It’s enough to break your heart,” says Bradley DeHart, who volunteers as social media coordinator for the Peace Mission. “But the reality is the court systems are overwhelmed, and we get dozens of referrals every day from counties all over the state.”
“We try to help in some way,” Yewell summarized, bemoaning the fact that Kentucky is number one in the nation for basketball, but we’re also number one in child abuse and tobacco use. “It’s a shame. I just try to be one voice. But there are many, many people who volunteer and give their time to the Peace Mission.”
In the non-profit world, they call that the power of one: one person doing their part, which, when added to many others, can make a great impact. In this case, many individual steps – or bike pedals – can go a long way toward making a difference.
“That’s the spirit working. It’s the loving spirit that the Mission creates,” Yewell concluded. “And that’s what I want to be a part of. I want to do something positive. That’s why we do this.”