The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 21, 2014

Joplin-to-New Orleans bike ride canceled for this year

Organizers looking for alternative JOMONOLA destinations this fall

— JOMONOLA organizers have canceled the July ride from Joplin to New Orleans that was designed to raise money and connect communities impacted by natural disasters.

They cited the amount of manpower it takes to coordinate a ride of that magnitude — the 2013 inaugural ride covered 733 miles through four states — as the primary factor.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Thomas Corley, director of development at Rebuild Joplin and an organizer and rider on last year’s inaugural ride. “A very time-intensive project. It took 10 people working for six months straight to get it up and running.”

But Corley emphasized that while the ride between Joplin and New Orleans has been canceled, the project will remain alive.

“We don’t want to talk about JOMONOLA as something that is dying because it’s not; it will take on a few different forms — just because we won’t ride from Joplin to New Orleans doesn’t mean it’s done, just that the nature of the trip is going to change,” he said.

“We took a hard look at the resources we would need, the manpower, and recognized with the current state of affairs we simply don’t have the people to plan it and put it on,” Corley said. “We’ve been talking about it for awhile, and reaching out to others for insight.”

The tour started, Corley said, in East Coast native Jim Feeney’s mind with the intent of connecting communities affected by natural disasters.

“That’s the special thing about something like JOMONOLA,” Corley said. “It transformed from an idea to a movement in nine months, which is really awesome. I think we want to keep that spirit, to allow it to be a platform to connect communities affected by natural disasters.”

“There also are devastations in other communities — from the East Coast to Colorado — so it’s a bit premature to say exactly where future rides might go. But we want to stay true to the intent, which is to connect communities.”

Feeney’s first experience with disaster response dates to four years ago, when he, wife, Gail, their children and extended family helped with the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans. By last year, the project had rebuilt more than 475 homes and had a waiting list of more than 100.

“I can’t really change the world, but I can make a little dent in it,” Feeney, 50, an IT specialist based in Rhode Island, said last year as preparations were being made for JOMONOLA.

Inspired by what he saw in New Orleans, he came to Joplin after the tornado and was impressed with Rebuild’s accomplishments. But volunteerism took on an even more personal meaning when Superstorm Sandy hit two hours from his home.

Feeney and his then-12-year-old son, along with church members, took supplies to Rockaway, N.Y.

“I want to instill in my kids that they should be grateful for what we have,” he said. “As sad as it is when disasters happen, a really weird side effect is it brings out the best of us. Really, when people gather together — and Jerrod has the best expression for this — you realize that ‘community is not defined by proximity.’”

For JOMONOLA, Feeney traded his car for an SUV for organizers to use as the sag wagon on the ride, and began putting in miles on his bike and in the gym to prepare.

“You gotta be all in or nothing,” he said. “To me, it’s not geographically important where the money goes — I think it’s just great to see the power of people in the rebuild.”

Feeney said Friday that there are a great deal of logistics that must be handled on a year-to-year basis, and that there simply were not enough personnel resources for a Joplin-to-New Orleans ride again this year.

Discussions are under way about a potential ride this fall to another destination impacted, like Joplin, by a natural disaster “to keep the spirit alive,” Corley said.

He and Feeney both mentioned Moore, Okla., as a possible destination that is more manageable in distance and would not require the depth of planning.

“There is still the alternative of doing a ride somewhere else later this fall, maybe Joplin to Moore, Okla., which would be a smaller scale, a lot less challenging to orchestrate, a lot less distance,” Feeney said. “We want to make sure whatever we do, we do it right.”

Feeney said that meanwhile, this summer he personally plans to help with rebuilding efforts in Joplin, New York/New Jersey and New Orleans by taking a week or two of vacation time; his 26-year-old daughter and perhaps his 13-year-old son will accompany him.

“That’s one thing I missed last year with JOMONOLA was doing a rebuild,” Feeney said. “I had done it every year prior to that for four years, and I’m looking forward to getting back and getting my hands dirty.”

$153,000 last year

Last year’s ride, which drew a field of about 30 riders, raised $153,000. Each rider was responsible for raising at least $5,000 in order to participate. The proceeds were divided among partnering nonprofits in Joplin, New York/New Jersey and New Orleans to assist families in rebuilding.


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