HARWICH – In the years before COVID-19, We Can Team of The Gasp, a long-distance fundraising cycling event, looked forward to a day of camaraderie and celebration. Though the pandemic might have changed the face of the annual ride, it couldn’t dim the dedication of those taking part, including Team We Can.
Located in Harwich, We Can is a non-profit organization aimed at empowering women through an array of unique services that help women find more employment opportunities and create self-sufficiency and stability. The challenge, especially during a year marked by closures and financial difficulties, is finding funding to support those programs. That’s where The Gasp comes in.
Formerly known as The Last Gasp, The Gasp is a noncompetitive bicycle ride of roughly 60 miles in support of non-profit organizations on Cape Cod, including We Can, for which the event has raised more than $250,000 during the past 10 years. Team We Can has been taking part in the Gasp for 10 years, happily taking their rides virtual this year.
Team leader Andrea Genser, a past executive director of We Can, said the group started with about 10 riders for their first Gasp. Over time, that number grew to nearly 30. Genser said about 17 riders took part in the 2020 event.
“The Gasp, and riding in it, is a really great mission fit for We Can because We Can is all about empowering women,” Genser said. “There’s nothing more empowering than setting a goal that feels out of reach, then working hard and getting there.”
Genser said she especially appreciates the process of helping people that might be new to riding or haven’t hopped on a bike in years. She enjoys seeing them reach milestones as they progress from riding five miles to the full 60 of the Gasp. What helps, Genser said, is the positive atmosphere of the event.
“Everybody helps everybody and supports each other,” Genser said. “This year really shows the commitment of people because they’re just doing it their own way. They’re doing it because they care about this organization and want to give back.”
In the past, The Gasp would culminate in a celebratory lobster and clambake, but the group celebration was canceled and the fundraiser made virtual to adhere to pandemic protocol. Instead of joining a massive group of riders on event day (typically mid-September), riders were able to take to their local trails and roadways when they were ready.
“People have been out training on their own or training in pairs and have made it happen,” Genser said. “To me that really just shows the commitment and caring people have for this organization.”
Both Genser and We Can Executive Director Lisa Guyon said the pandemic has only served to emphasize the importance of We Can.
“I think now more than ever an organization that’s providing free services for women and their families, be it legal support, one-to-one financial empowerment suggestions, or a person who can listen actively and help them get to where they need to go, is huge,” said Genser. “This organization serves thousands of women every year and provides services that no other organization can provide.”
“We Can started at Cape Cod Community College to help women in transition, and help women access higher education as a pathway to self-sufficiency,” said Guyon. “We Can sort of emerged out of that program 20 years ago. Ever since, our programs have been designed to help women navigate some of these challenges.”
While We Can does provide services to men, at the heart of their program is empowering women. To further benefit the organization, Beacon Financial Planning of Cape Cod, a women-run business, offered a business match donation of $10,000. President Michaela Herlihy said the donation is all about supporting an important local organization.
“We Can trains people and helps provide skills, versus just offering handouts,” Herlihy said. “When you provide skills, you provide such an opportunity toward the future. We believe they’re providing skills that will help people for a lifetime.”
Ruth Anderson-Zabre has ridden in five Gasp events, learning about it as a volunteer for We Can.
“I love the training rides,” she said. “Andi (Genser) was our leader and would take us on wonderful rides throughout the Cape. We all got to know each other. The most fun part was the camaraderie.”
What also mattered to Anderson-Zabre was We Can.
“It’s one of the best agencies I have ever run into,” she said. “It does so much for women around the Cape and their services are free. They’re empowering resources and it really gives women a huge boost. Whether they’re going through something like a divorce, death in the family, or job transition, it hits so many areas of women’s lives that they need support for.”
Anderson-Zabre said that though she considers herself an active person in myriad sports, there was still a learning curve when it came to participating in The Gasp.
“In the beginning I had to learn to ride faster and longer than I was used to,” she said. “It was a little bit of a leap, but it wasn’t too difficult.”
She encourages those contemplating taking part in the 2021 event to just do it.
“If they’ve ridden at all, they should consider it,” she said. “With the support of others, you get stronger physically. You get to be a better rider. It’s not only a great benefit for the agency, but it’s a great benefit for each rider. You feel so good and proud that you’ve been able to accomplish something.”
The 2020 event is Jane Porter’s fourth, and while it was a little different, it was still memorable. Porter first learned about The Gasp as a volunteer for We Can where she saw a flier about the ride.
“I thought, ‘I can try this out,'” she said.
Though she had a bicycle, it wasn’t quite up to the task of 60 miles, which Genser told her.
“Andi told me I needed a new bike,” Porter said. “She’s blunt, but she couldn’t be more helpful to people that want to do it. It’s just such a nice group of people that I met, so that’s why I kept at it.”
Presently, Porter volunteers by doing analysis and reporting, maintaining her connection to the organization even after returning home from her summer residence locally. Her work has helped her see the importance of We Can.
“As I see information, I can see it’s the women who are sometimes in a tough spot in terms of finances and child raising,” Porter said. “It’s unique in that there’s so many wonderful volunteers that give them legal, financial, and counseling advice. It’s such a worthy cause and you know that your dollars are well spent.”
Donations are being accepted through Oct. 1 and can be made via thegasp.org.