A Minnesota couple is spreading the word on how prevalent child abuse is across the United States.
The couple is mixing their love for children and meeting a life-long goal of traveling across the nation. Larry and Debi Heyn started this mission April 7 in San Diego and plan to travel 3,300 miles by bike across 13 states and reach Washington D.C. by July — with Larry covering the distance on a bicycle.
The couple made a stop in Ottawa Wednesday morning before departing east on K-68 toward Missouri.
“We are both enjoying the experience,” Larry Heyn said. “It has been very positive. The thing I have found virtually everybody knows somebody that has been abused or they have been abused themselves.”
Heyn, a 67-year-old retired medical device engineer, said the seeds were sown for this trip about five years ago when he and Debi were serving a church mission in western New York along the Erie Canal.
“I would meet these guys that were riding their bikes across the United States on the Erie Canal,” he said. “It kind of piqued my interest. At one time, I was a long-distance runner. Running across the United States crossed my mind more than once. But my legs can’t do that anymore. Biking intrigued me.”
As he prepared for the trip, he could not single out a charity to represent. He said while watching a talk of a former Utah Supreme Court justice, it became apparent what he wanted to do.
“The name of the talk was ‘Protect the Children,’” Heyn said. “He outlines all the ways children are abused or mistreated. My purpose is to invite people to learn more about abuse.”
Heyn and his son-in-law built a website, shieldthechildren.com — a collection of information on abuse with links, Heyn said. It is divided into two sections, one for learning and the other for taking action to stop the abuse or care for those who have been abused, he said.
“We have collected ways how people can personally get involved and do things,” Heyn said. “Most of these things are simple.”
Heyn believes it is by small and simple acts that great things can happen. He is extending an invitation to those he meets along the route to do something to stop child abuse. He says donating money to a specific organization is good, but taking personal action to prevent abuse is better.
“If one person in this entire trip does something to help one child from being abused, to me it will be worth it,” Heyn said. “I’m asking people to email me what action they’ve taken. I’m hoping to compile a long list on my webpage.”
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The trip has taken the couple from California to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. From Ottawa, they will travel through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and end in Washington, D.C.
“When I got to McPherson, I was about halfway at that point,” Heyn said. “This trip has taken us through lots of little towns. You get to meet the people. There is some long-forgotten history of these places. In New Mexico, we were passing through where Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. Army. We camped one weekend in Columbus, New Mexico, which is the town that Pancho Villa invaded the United States. Virtually every town you go through has a historical marker that tells you the history of that town and why it is there.”
He said the trip has been far from boring.
“Every day we have a new place to go to,” he said. “You keep putting that one foot in front of the other.”