Biker raises money, awareness while cycling for homeless teens
JANESVILLE Some people have told Jaysen Jorgensen he does not look like the kind of guy who can bike 1,649 miles in 30 days.
At 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds, he is not your typical athlete. But he has challenged himself to travel the distance for an important cause.
Since Saturday, Jaysen has been pedaling for Project 16:49 to help homeless students in Rock County. He will continue riding in Janesville and around the county until June 30.
The 36-year-old insurance agent will travel a minimum of 55 miles a day to raise awareness about and donations for Project 16:49, which is close to opening a transitional-living house for homeless teens.
Project 16:49 is named after the amount of time between the end of a school day and the beginning of a new one—16 hours, 49 minutes—when homeless teens seek safe and stable shelter.
"I have a drive to help these kids," Jaysen said. "I want them to know there are people in the community who care about them."
Jaysen's goal is to raise $5,000 from concerned citizens and businesses. He attends Cargill United Methodist Church, where a church committee has challenged the congregation to donate $1,649 and will match the amount if the congregation succeeds. On the last Friday of June, he plans to ride to businesses that donate and thank them for their support.
Jaysen also wants to get 1,000 "likes" on Facebook, where he will share progress stories and reports.
Jaysen has experience mountain biking. In April, he bought a road bike and pedaled 32 miles on his first outing. The days ahead will be far more rigorous.
"You think of someone like Lance Armstrong doing something like this," said Ann Forbeck, homeless liaison for the Janesville School District. "Jaysen is just amazing. He will get attention for the project. When people know about our kids, they tend to stand up and help."
Forbeck understands the depth of the problem. In the 2011-12 school year, Rock County counted 968 homeless students in grades kindergarten through 12. More than 170 were teens, who are homeless and on their own.
"I'm fairly certain the numbers will be higher this year," Forbeck said.
An anonymous person is donating a house in Janesville that offers housing and case management.
"We plan to put a roof over some kids' heads by fall," Forbeck said.
In addition, Project 16:49 has completed paperwork for nonprofit status and is taking applications for an executive director. Eventually, Project 16:49 wants to open a second house in Beloit. Both homes will focus on independent living for teens that are 18 and still in high school.
"We will help them finish school and plan for their future," Forbeck said. "Another piece of what we want to do is provide service to kids under 18. We are planning to get safe and licensed host homes for them to stay in."
A subcommittee of the Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force runs Project 16:49. The group has worked to provide safe and stable shelter for homeless teens since February 2008. Robin Stuht is homeless coordinator for the Beloit School District and co-chairs the project with Forbeck.
In addition to Jaysen, the community has stepped up to help the effort. Some groups regularly support Project 16:49 with fundraisers.
In the days ahead, Jaysen is not taking time off work to tally the miles. He is pushing hard before and after work and on weekends.
"I still have to run a business," he said. "I'm going to try and build up my miles on weekends, so I can take a day off now and then to give my body a rest."
He might leave the office at 5 p.m. and ride until 9 p.m. on many nights. Jaysen's wife, Julia, will take on the brunt of childcare duties.
"It has to be a family commitment," said Jaysen, a father of two with another child on the way. "Julia believes in what we're doing. She recognizes how important it is."
In part, Jaysen is passionate about Project 16:49 because he was homeless as a teen. He lived in his van for four months in Montana and took advantage of a food pantry. But the youth from a middle class family knew he could always count on his parents if things got too bad.
"These kids are in a situation where they don't have a ripcord," he said. "They feel they have no one to reach out to."
In 2001, Jaysen moved to Janesville, where he is a self-employed State Farm Insurance agent. He also volunteers for groups such as the Boys and Girls Club of Janesville. He is optimistic about meeting his challenge.
"Anyone can do anything for 30 days," he said. "I think."
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.