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Luther alum bikes for Syrian refugees

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Alum Matt Boelter (‘16).

Alum Matt Boelter (‘16).

Photo courtesy of Matt Boelter (‘16)

Photo courtesy of Matt Boelter (‘16)

Alum Matt Boelter (‘16).

Emma Busch, Staff Writer

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Luther College alum Matt Boelter (‘16) is biking 40 miles a day from Yorktown, VA, to Astoria, WA, on the 4,228 mile TransAmerica Trail this summer to raise money and awareness for Syrian refugees.

On May 1, Boelter will begin his trek across the country with the intention of raising $10,000 for the Save the Children Organization by Aug. 30.

Fellow Luther alum and Boelter’s partner, Sarah Stutzke (‘16), says that this fundraising endeavor reflects Boelter’s compassion for other people and his desire to make a difference in the world through his own interests.

“Matt is an extremely empathetic person [who] is very much concerned about the wellbeing of others,” Stutzke said. “He is taking on a serious endeavor by committing three months to this trip, but I don’t think he would have it any other way.”

During his bicycle trip, Boelter will interview people across the country about their opinions on refugees and post them on his blog in order to create dialogue between people with different life experiences and political opinions, something he believes is necessary to solve national and global problems.

“I think that when we build very rigid identity walls we separate ourselves from other people, not only globally as U.S. citizens but also locally,” Boelter said. “There are a lot of community members that you may separate yourself from whether they’re experiencing homelessness, are of a different religion, or if they are of a different political viewpoint. I believe this really hinders our ability to work together to solve some of these issues.”

According to Boelter, his idea for this journey was inspired by a number of things, one of which was his mother’s health crisis.

“I was living out in Washington State, had recently graduated college, and [was] working a desk job that was ultimately unfulling,” Boelter said. “I got a phone call from my step-dad informing me that my mother had had a stroke. So I ended up moving back to Eau Claire from Washington to help her along her path of recovery. That experience in itself really made me reevaluate my own life in a lot of values that I hold. Also more importantly, [it made me] really examine what I want to do with this life, because it can be over in such a short time.”

Photo courtesy of Matt Boelter (‘16)
A map of the TransAmerica trail.

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Boelter explained that reading reports of the staggering amount of human suffering in Syria and surrounding countries also compelled him to take action. 

“I had been reading a lot in the news about the incredible suffering that a lot of people in Syria are experiencing, but specifically women and children because often times they are the most vulnerable among any population” Boelter said. “I had read this article about children in Yemen, a country fairly close to Syria, who were also suffering. Basically, the children would eat garbage in order to stave off hunger.”

Boelter was particularly struck by the number of Syrians that have been killed or displaced from their homes during the course of the Syrian civil war.

“In Syria, I believe the United Nations (U.N.) just released that around 400,000 people have died in Syria just from the Syrian civil war in the past five years,” Boelter said. “Around 12 million are displaced, and 9 million of [this group] have filed as refugees with the U.N. So there’s just incredible need out there, specifically for the children to relieve some of their suffering, in emotional terms, but also physical terms and that means shelter and food.”

According to Boelter, he chose Save the Children because of their wide-reaching impact on those in need globally. 

“I chose the Save the Children organization because they already operate in 120 countries around the world, so they already have a lot of the means necessary to directly help these people,” Boelter said.

Updates on Boelter’s trip and links to his Save the Children donation page can be found on his Facebook, Thought for Food Transcontinental Bicycle Tour, and his blog, Thought For Food Tour.

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