Aaron Neufeld, a 22-year-old North Woodmere resident, said he’s celebrating a decade of riding a bicycle by going to California — and then biking his way back to New York.
The HAFTR High School graduate, who learned to ride a bike after moving to North Woodmere when he was 12, is one of nine people and the only one from New York to participate in Bike 4 Friendship, a more-than-month-long cross-country trip to raise money and awareness for the Friendship Circle. The organization says it is the “fastest growing Jewish organization for children with special needs” and “has cultivated friendships between 5,000 special children and close to 11,000 teen volunteers.”
“A cross country trip is a bucket list thing for me. I thought it would be in my 30s and 40s,” Neufeld said. “I just graduated college and I don’t have a job yet, so I jumped on the opportunity.”
Volunteering with children and teens with special needs has been a passion of Neufeld’s since high school, when he volunteered with Kulanu and HASC. He then found out about the Friendship Circle while in college.
“It’s just if you wanted to go to the movies, you’d call your friends and go. A lot of these kids don’t have that,” he said. “They go home and they’re lonely. Once you get to know them, they’re like everybody else. They just have a disability holding them back. They become your friends, not just people you’re volunteering with.”
The trek begins on Monday in Los Angeles, and stops in a different city across the country about every week. Riders start at 7 a.m. and arrive at the next destination between 1 and 3 p.m., with stops every three hours to restock drinks and snacks. Participants will also visit different Friendship Circle chapters in various states.
Neufeld has been spending his time training for the journey, riding a minimum of 30 miles a day. During the recent 95-degree heat, he racked up 100 miles.
“I knew we’d be going through deserts in Arizona,” he said. “I bike in all kinds of weather — cold and heat — so your body gets acclimated to these conditions.”
There will also be a shorter trek from New York to Washington, D.C. One adult and three teens, all from Woodmere, are participating: Ariel Weiss, Gavri Adler, Yaakov Hawk and Benjamin Watman.
Neufeld was asked to also participate in the D.C., trip, but he told the participants, “let me see how my legs feel, and if I feel good, I’ll do it.”
Neufeld had originally planned to go to Israel for a 10-day Birthright tour, before learning about the bike trek.
“My mom wasn’t really onboard in the beginning. [Now] I think she has some faith in me,” he said. “I’ll definitely be calling her every single day.”