AGAWAM – While some seven-year-old kids were playing video games or soccer, Ayden Vrijenhoek has spent his energy on a different kind of project. Ayden and his family hosted the “Ride for Life” event, a charity bike ride at School Street Park, on Nov. 8.
Ayden’s mother Connie said her son had seen a motorcycle charity ride last year and wanted to put on one of his own.
“At first I think we said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Ayden’s father, Derek, said with a laugh. “Last year he just came home, grabbed a clipboard and said, ‘I’m going around the neighborhood collecting money. I’m starting my own charity’. And we said, slow down, but then he was serious about it. We gave it a day or two and he was still adamant about doing it. He rode around the neighborhood and this year was beyond our wildest dreams.”
In that first ride, he raised $80, and the money was donated to Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee last year.
For this year’s event, the family decided to split the proceeds between the Parish Cupboard in West Springfield and the Agawam Congregational Church’s Loaves and Fishes program, which supplies meals for those who need it once a month.
Ayden said he wanted this year’s event to be one thing: “bigger.” He was hoping to get 30 riders signed up to raise $1,000, and with some help from the community, that goal was smashed.
The event raised $3,295 and had more than 100 participants.
Connie said the word spread through the Agawam Congregational Church, with the help of the children’s minister Janet Brown, and the town’s elementary school’s.
“I think people thought it was great and it was something someone within the church was doing, but I don’t think anybody realized it would be as big as it was. When he told me he wanted to raise $1,000, I said, ‘Oh, OK,” she said. “You want to encourage your child and not have them be let down. He was not let down.”
Ayden said the event was “great and awesome” and many of his friends came out to ride. Participants completed 10 laps around School Street Park, about five miles.
The day exceeded even Ayden’s expectations. He asked his parents to keep the total money raised a surprise until it was time to announce it. When he saw the number, he said “I’m going to faint.”
Even after the event, Connie said people have still been sending checks. The support, she said, has been more than anticipated.
“We had people in the community, some that we know, some that we didn’t. Some of the people there we didn’t even know, so that was incredible,” Connie said. “We had people that couldn’t be there that wanted to send checks. It was such a huge, overwhelming response. It was amazing.”
Both Connie and Derek said it was a point of pride to see their son set his mind to an altruistic cause and follow through in such a large way.
"He was really excited but it’s just awesome to see him do this, as much as he can fight with his sister and things like that, he gets it and he knows how important community is,” Connie said.
The Ride for Life also saw the support of businesses, including Agawam’s Java Stop, Geisslers, Big Y, AutoPoint Motors, McDonald’s, Target and Panera. This support, Connie said, was incredible to see.
“I think I was just more, out of all of it, just amazed at how much our whole community came together,” Connie said. “It was just so awesome to see them get behind a seven year old to do something that was important to him.”