published Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Kennedy: Aho has the wind at her back

There's a group in Washington called "The Can Kicks Back," a nonprofit dedicated to fixing the national debt.

Love the name.

It's run by millennials -- aka young adults -- who are presumably fed up with the baby boomer habit of kicking the proverbial can down the road on budget matters. Someday, the kids say, the "can" will rise up and kick back. And they'll be the ones left to absorb the blow.

Youthful idealism meets middle-age cynicism -- hasn't that always been the way of the world?

Last week, a young Ringgold, Ga., woman named Sara Aho stopped by the newspaper to tell me about her planned eight-week bicycle trip across the United States this summer. Aho, a student at the University of Georgia, has hooked up with an organization called Venture Expedition, a Minnesota group that tries to raise money and awareness for "the oppressed in Burma and Thailand" through fundraising bicycle trips.

As the interview progressed, I realized that most of my questions marked me as a cynic.

"Are you up to biking all the way across the country?" I asked Aho.

"What's so bad in Burma?"

Aho smiled and admitted that studying Burma from afar is arduous and that she's not 100 percent sure that she'll be able to raise the several thousand dollars required for the trip. Still, she is 100 percent committed to giving it her best shot, and she's afraid if she doesn't take a risk on planning a trip like this now, she probably never will.

"It's going to be now or never," she said.

Fair enough.

Her idealism is contagious. I want my kids to grow up to be like Aho, bold and courageous.

Aho explained that she first heard about Venture Expedition on Facebook. Before you know it, she was video-conferencing on Google Hangout with leaders of Venture Expeditions who have done the church-hopping bicycle journeys before.

She learned that the group aims to "follow in the footsteps of Christ and sacrifice on behalf of others." The sacrifice, in this case, is the burning in your legs after a day of cross-country biking.

Venture Expeditions, among other things, runs a safe house in Burma that supports orphans, victims of human trafficking and the "child soldiers" often drafted into service by the nation's military regime.

"Nothing is going to change there unless they get help from the outside, especially the U.S.," Aho said, hopefully.

Her eight-week trip will cost thousands of dollars, and then there's the small matter of getting physically prepared for the 3,300-mile trek from Seattle to New York.

Aho recently ran her first half-marathon to get ready for the summer, and she does spinning classes to prepare for her cycling. She bikes up and down White Oak Mountain to simulate the Appalachian leg of the journey.

To raise money, she's having a big yard sale at First Alliance Church on Hickory Valley Road on Saturday morning. Her grandparents have donated lots of household goods and an RV for resale. (Visit her blog at for more information on the sale.)

If you're out and about Saturday, stop by and buy a spatula or an RV, or something.

Idealism is a match that burns out quickly. But the divine spark is unmistakable.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFP COLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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