Fox Chapel alumnus treks across country
O’HARA: To exercise his faith, Parker Snyder took the long road.
Snyder, 23, skipped his May 19 graduation from Purdue University to embark on a cross-country biking expedition to extol the injustice of child abuse.
The 3,800-mile trek was a statement of his faith, Snyder said, and was intended to raise awareness, not money.
“It was a statement to stand in solidarity with kids that suffer,” said Snyder, a resident of Powers Run Road and Fox Chapel Area High School alumnus. “It was about how we can advocate for kids and not just write a check.”
Snyder’s aim was to get people talking about the epidemic of child abuse, to inspire them to act as he was. His road trip was a culmination of college field work and a commitment inspired by a 1999 trip to Calcutta, India, which opened his eyes to the widespread afflictions suffered by children.
“I was 19 and thought it would be neat to travel out of the country,” he said of the college-sponsored scholar program in which 10 students were selected to work three weeks with the Sisters of Charity, an international ministry of women volunteers who work with abused and neglected children.
Calcutta, one of India’s major city’s and one of its most densely populated with an estimated 14 million people, is littered with squalid areas of dilapidated huts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps, he said. Overpopulation has led to a housing shortage, inadequate sanitation services, drinking water and medicine. Naked children roam some villages, malnourished and illiterate.
For Snyder, it was a complete reversal of life as he knew it in the affluent Fox Chapel area. The culture shock was unforgettable.
“You get there and you’re thrown into poverty. You have to deal with sickness and little food and you can’t close yourself off,” he said. “It was my first real encounter with the issue and I saw things that were unspeakable.
“Neglect is so far removed from our community. Often, the form of abuse here is spoiling kids with material items and not giving them love.”
Images of the mentally and physically abused children of India lingered with Snyder throughout his college career, where he majored in civil engineering. So too have the intangible side-effects. Humbled, Snyder said he now demands less in material possessions. The trip spurred his desire to speak loudly about his beliefs and to give a voice to those who have none.
“The women we worked with at the shelter were so compassionate, they give their lives to service,” he said. “They didn’t say anything about it, they just acted it out. That’s what I wanted the bike to do.”
Snyder now is writing a book to publicize the plight of child abuse. That he pedaled across country will only give the story a more colorful path.
“The story I want to tell is not about me. It’s about the kids and the abuse and what we can do,” he said. “The bike ride gives that a voice.”
Snyder made his way, with two friends, from New Hampshire to California on a relatively small budget. He won $2,000 in an essay competition which funded his road trip and spent 65 days without having to spend money thanks to the favorable buzz his trip generated. In addition to a nationwide community of cyclists who were willing to house the trio, Snyder said much of the support was lent by strangers who took an interest in the good-will mission.
“One in three nights we stayed in the house of someone we didn’t know,” he said. “They would put us up and then call ahead to their cousin’s house 65 miles away and we’d stay there. People reach out to you.”
Snyder never solicited money from the people he met. Still, some felt compelled to donate and the trip raised about $1,500. With that, he made a fitting purchase. For children he met at a Covenant House shelter in Missouri, he bought two bicycles.
“That’s why I was riding,” he said. “To see what we can do to make their lives better.”
The balance of the money was spent to upgrade a basketball court for a children’s shelter in Oakland, Calif..
Snyder recently relocated to Georgia to begin a career in engineering. His ministry work will continue part-time, he said.
“When we get invested in other people’s lives, it’s mutually enriching,” he said. “There are a lot of people who would have written a check to support my trip, but when it becomes more than fund-raising, then you are advocating. To give your energy, to engage in dialogue, then you are making change.”
To follow Snyder’s journey, log onto his Web site .