Every Child Has a Dream
By Noel Daniel
The chilly weather of February evokes an array of images—perhaps the least likely of which is one of a man at the start of a great adventure. But that’s precisely when Tony Youga started off on his journey across the states. It was a journey with incredible purpose.
“When I graduated college, I had a dream to bike around Lake Michigan, about 800 miles,” said Youga. “When I discussed it with my mom, her words were simple: ‘Be Safe.’ While the words were few, the meaning was very impactful. As always in life, my mom and dad encouraged me to pursue my dreams. They never doubted that I could achieve them.”
Although this particular dream was never realized, Youga had plenty of others. Youga set off on a 3,000 mile quest to ride his bicycle from San Diego, California to the Atlantic Ocean in St. Augustine. It was a journey that’d take nearly two to three months, with over 60 days of riding and averaging at around 50 miles a day. He elected to ride alone, followed in a rented RV by his wife Patty as well as the family dog and co-pilot, Lucky.
From the very start, Youga made it clear that this was an adventure—not a race. His goal? To discover America and her people while helping underserved children and families by funding the programs and services of Sierra Vista Child & Family Services through 100 percent of the donations that were gathered from this beautiful journey.
“As I get closer to the finish, I continue to think about the children that we are helping through your donations. Their needs are so great, and we are going to make a huge impact.”
Tony Youga, Day 40 – Lake City, FL to Jacksonville, FL: “Being a Dad”
Sierra Vista Child & Family Services is the largest, most comprehensive private nonprofit 501(c)(3) community mental health based agency in the Central Valley. The agency encompasses 29 programs in 17 locations and serves on average over 18,000 children and families each year.
Tony and Patty Youga’s passion for the organization began when Patty joined Sierra Vista as the HR Director in 2000 while Tony was the CFO of E. & J. Gallo Winery. Patty retired after 17 wonderful years with the agency, and over the years they have still been constant supporters of the organization and believe in the mission of changing the lives of children and families. Pat saw firsthand how Sierra Vista positively impacted the underserved children in the Central Valley and always shared these tales at home over dinner.
Now retired, as part of their journey, they are going to raise money to help children realize their dreams. Donors were encouraged to donate a penny, nickel or dime per mile or more. Tony and Patty agreed to match all donations up to the first $10,000, and all money goes directly to the Foster Care & Adoption Program at Sierra Vista Child & Family Services.
“Both of us love this organization and the amazing work it does in serving the underserved youth. We decided that we would like to help some of these children to realize their dreams. Usually their biggest dream is to be reunited with their mom and dad,” said Youga.
“It is sad to say that, in most cases, this dream will not be realized. However, we can support Sierra Vista in providing them a safe place to sleep, clothes, a warm meal, and a foster family that loves them as if they are their own children.” Although the way was far from easy, it was a task that was more than worth it for Youga. He took to the streets in spite of the perils—like a dangerous tunnel between Apache Junction and Globe, Arizona or the wild dogs and unsettling camping experiences between DeRidder and Ville Platte, Louisiana.
From San Diego, California to Las Cruces, New Mexico and then El Paso, Texas to Florida, Youga pedaled and logged his process in a dedicated and growing blog that told a story of his passions and ultimately his reasons for pursuing this task. He details his mother’s staunch belief in him, his father’s storied past, his dreams of playing baseball, and so much more—pulling readers into a narrative of dedication. One of his final entries, “Being a Dad,” is especially poignant considering his goals.
“As I get closer to the finish, I continue to think about the children that we are helping through your donations. Their needs are so great, and we are going to make a huge impact,” Youga writes. “The most precious moments of my life are in being ‘Dad’ to Jeff and Thomas. It is hard to believe that they are 32 and 29 now. The times of having them baptized, going to their first day of school, and being their baseball coach seem only like yesterday. They have both now graduated college and have begun their careers. At some point along the way, we went from me being the know-it-all Dad to one of joint admiration and respect. It is a nice balance in our relationship.”
It’s a familiar theme in the blogs, and one that expresses his clear gratitude for the opportunities he’s been given. Between his great adventure, his goals, and his words, Youga’s appreciation for Sierra Vista Child & Family services is clear as the path he biked down.
Make a donation on Tony’s GoFundMe page at www.GoFundMe.com/EveryChildHasaDream. Learn more about Sierra Vista Child & Family Services at www.SierraVistaCares.org. For more information about this amazing story and local support of our agency, please contact Craig Orona, Director of Marketing & Fund Development at 209-523-4573 or [email protected]