MILFORD — Alan Masarek has always wanted to bike cross country. When he got the chance to combine the ride of a lifetime with a fundraiser to benefit an important cause, he did just that.
Masarek, 60, and 20 other bicyclists are currently participating in the 3,800 mile Trek Bicycle Bucket List Trip that started in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 18 and will finish in Portland, Maine, on Oct.3.
Masarek is riding to support Empower House, a Milford safe house that will provide temporary, secure refuge for people at imminent risk of death or serious injury and offer comprehensive support for victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse inside and out of their homes. The safe house is scheduled to open in 2022 and is organized under the Bridgeport-based Center for Family Justice.
“When I retired from work a year ago, this was my lead bucket list item that I wanted to do,” Masarek said. “I thought, what better way to bring visibility to the Empower House than to dedicate my ride to it and create a challenge gift to raise money.”
Masarek is currently co-chair of Empower House along with his wife, Patti Masarek. She said she was not surprised when he signed up to ride across the country.
“Honestly, the first thought I had was, this is not the first insane thing he’s done,” she said. “Alan has always wanted to ride his bicycle across the country, so when he signed up, I was supportive but obviously extremely nervous and still am. It’s a huge undertaking, and I’m proud of him for what he’s doing.”
Debra Greenwood, the center’s president and CEO, said she spoke to Masarek when he learned about the need for the new safe house.
“He wanted to see what my thoughts were on him raising awareness (by) pedaling to protect victims of abuse. I was speechless, and he explained the Portland to Portland ride to me and how he’d been training for this for 14 months,” said Greenwood. “He felt passionate and committed to doing this for our Empower House project. I was speechless (and) humbled, and we’re honored on behalf of our clients and communities.”
Greenwood said Empower House would provide temporary housing and support services to domestic and human trafficking victims primarily from Bridgeport, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, Trumbull and Easton.
Masarek said he and Patti got involved with the project after he retired last year.
“My wife was already very involved with the Center for Family Justice, and I became involved with it once I stopped working,” said Masarek. “As we got more involved with the Center for Family Justice, we decided to co-chair what we now call the Empower House, which is the building of a new safe house for victims of domestic violence, sexual, human trafficking and the like.”
Patti Masarek said she had been a supporter and volunteer for the center for almost four years, and the Empower House is meaningful for both of them.
“Given our commitment to Empower House, it made sense,” she said.
The cross-country bike ride is organized by Trek, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of bicycles and cycling gear. The company puts together the ride and plans the route. The riders departed Portland, Oregon on Aug. 18 and on Aug. 24 Masarek said they had just arrived in Walla Walla, Washington. the riders average about 90 miles each day.
“It’s fascinating as you ride across the country, you get to see how the countryside and the scenery changes dramatically,” he said. “Over the course of the 3,800 miles we will cross 15 states.”
Before setting out, Masarek said there was a brief ceremonial beginning.
“You start in the Pacific Ocean, and you literally dip your wheel in the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “So you dip your rear wheel in the Pacific, and 47 days later, we are going to dip our front wheel in the Atlantic.”
The fundraising goal for the cross country bike ride, Masarek calls it the “Empower Ride,” is $1.4 million. The funds will go towards renovations at the safe house. To date, the ride has raised a total of $525,000. If Masarek reaches his fundraising goal, that will put Empower House within $500,000 of its $3.5 million total fundraising goal, Greenwood said.
Alan and Patti have also personally supported the ride and the fundraising goal, pledging $100 per mile for each mile of the ride, for a total of $380,000.
“We’ve challenged others to sponsor as many miles as they are comfortable with. So they can sponsor one mile for $100 or sponsor more,” he said. “So of the 3,8000 miles, we have about 1,400 that has been sponsored, and it’s growing every day.”
According to Masarek, the renovation of Empower House is necessary due to high demand.
“CFJ has experienced unprecedented increases in demand for its life-saving services,” said Patti Masarek. She said the state has seen increasing domestic violence calls and the center’s shelter capacity has not been able to keep up with the demand. Last year the center’s existing shelter operated at 125 percent of capacity, sometimes using local hotels to provide overflow support.
But hotels cost an estimated 12 times more than staying at the safe house, which placed additional strain on the center’s fundraising, she said.
“The achievement of our fundraising goals for the Empower House and Empower Ride has never been more critical,” she said.
To donate and track Marasek’s bike ride, visit empowerride.org.