Giving Thanks for Change and Opportunity

Jeanie Ward-WallerThanksgiving is my favorite holiday – not just because of the delicious food and the afternoon nap on the couch. As we kick off the month of gift giving and celebration that is the holiday season this day is very simply about quality time with family and friends and giving thanks.

This year has brought a wave of change in my life, and many things for which I am very grateful. From January in Key West to April in San Francisco, I pedaled 5,200 miles safely with a group of incredible women, without so much as minor accident on those many miles of unknown roads. Thankful just scratches the surface of how I feel about that experience, the six women that endured the journey with me and the incredible generosity of the close friends, both new and old, that supported us along the way by taking us in, feeding us, or donating generously to our cause. Our group worked hard, not just in the saddle but on the ground in every community where we stopped to advocate for Safe Routes to School and safe roads for bicyclists around the country. The ultimate reward for that dedication was to meet Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, at the end of our journey and receive an offer to manage the state network in California. Thankful again seems too modest to describe my feeling in having a job I truly love and the opportunity to work with an equally enthusiastic network of partners and advocates. I am thankful, and I also appreciate that this opportunity was the result of a lot of hard work!

Safe Routes to School is also riding a wave of change this year – both exciting and tumultuous times for the California state network and advocates across the nation. The federal bill MAP-21 was passed this summer during my first week on the job, eliminating dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School. Nearly five months later, California, the state that has led the nation in dedicating state dollars and supporting the program, is still grappling with implementation and the decision to set aside federal funds for Safe Routes to School.  With this challenge comes an opportunity for advocates to help make positive changes, and as with my personal journey, good things are worth hard work and dedication. Safe Routes to School has been widely successful and earned a groundswell of grassroots support that we can leverage to protect the program. Recent election results gave us reason to be optimistic about the future for active transportation. California passed ballot proposition 30, a tax measure that will relieve some of the state’s budget pressure, and returned many supportive representatives to the state legislature. We have many reasons to be thankful for good fortune and opportunities, to keep working hard and to stay hopeful for the future.

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