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Simple bike ride offers joy to special needs riders

Joy Rides have been offered at First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin since spring. It gives people otherwise unable to get out on bikes a way to see the community.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Ken Huff’s legs were burning but he powered up the hill and around the corner onto Aberdeen Street near downtown Dunedin. He pedaled quickly, pointing out colorful mailboxes and dazzling chandeliers hanging in front yard trees.

“There’s another mailbox for you Maxine,” he said.

Huff was having a joyful morning. He is a part-time rickshaw pilot, a specialized bicycle capable of carrying a pair of passengers in front of the driver. He volunteers to take riders along the approximately four-mile route one day per week.

The trips are appropriately named Joy Rides.

“It’s a joyful morning and a joyful ride,” said Deborah Simeone, who rode with her daughter, Maxine, Tuesday morning. “This is a wonderful experience. We’re loving it. We’re quite grateful.”

The idea to take people on trips around the neighborhood was the result of a conversation between Bill Hemme and the head pastor, David Shelor, of First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin. Hemme has attended services there for about two decades. He was saddened by the lack of connectivity in the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Offering Joy Rides seemed to be a great chance to jumpstart bonds again.

“Normally we like to take out folks who would find it very difficult to go out and enjoy a bike ride or a long walk around Dunedin or the Pinellas Trail,” he said. “This is a nice way to get out and enjoy the community.”

The plan was to start with shut-ins but Hemme quickly realized the COVID-19 pandemic rendered many in the community a shut-in. Basically, anyone who wants a ride can get one.

The best part? The Joy Rides are free.

“It just spreads a lot of joy,” said Hemme with a chuckle.

Each ride lasts about 45 minutes unless those rickshaw passengers opt to get out and take photos of the colorful scenery. That happened a few times on Huff’s trip with Maxine. She was interested in the brightly painted mailboxes along the ride route. She plans to redecorate her own soon.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Huff, who lives in neighboring Clearwater.

The rides are offered all weekdays, pending weather. Mondays are designated for people at the Hale Center. Tuesdays are reserved for folks from the non-profit Help Us Gather, which specializes in getting people with special needs connected to fun events in the community. Wednesdays are for residents of Edgewater Retirement Manor. Thursdays are open to anyone and Friday riders are usually from Mease Life. Anyone who wants a ride is encouraged to check out the Joy Rides website or call First Presbyterian at 727-733-2318.

“We’ll figure out a way to get them in,” said Hemme.

Rides are typically scheduled for 8, 9 and 10 a.m. So far, their oldest Joy Ride passenger was 100 years old.

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