By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant
DUBUQUE — As he rides his bicycle from Omaha, Nebraska, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dubuque area Catholic Kevin Schwendinger is pedaling with a purpose, attempting, with each mile he travels, to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking.
Schwendinger is trying to be a “witness on the road,” he said, making stops along his 650-mile journey to engage people in discussion and share videos and give presentations about human trafficking at churches and libraries and other area institutions.
“This is an educational effort,” Schwendinger said. “The purpose is to stir some conversation about this because a lot of people think this is not occurring, but we know it is.”
His route is taking him through the Archdiocese of Dubuque, including through the communities of Webster City, Iowa Falls, Cedar Falls, Manchester and Dubuque.
Schwendinger is no stranger to long bicycle rides for good causes. In recent years, he has undertaken five rides — several hundred miles in length each — to raise money for Dubuque’s Cathedral of St. Raphael’s sister parishes in El Salvador. Feeling like he had fulfilled his obligation to that cause, Schwendinger turned his attention this year to human trafficking.
He and his wife, Lynn Keffeler-Schwendinger, have been to both El Salvador and Guatemala and continue to have an affinity for issues pertaining to Central America. There is a strong connection, Kevin said, between the struggles of the people in that region and the topics of immigration and human trafficking. “It’s all related,” he said.
Kevin and Lynn decided they wanted to read more about human trafficking, and they connected with groups from Omaha, Milwaukee, Clinton and Dubuque that work to shed light on the issue. The couple developed a greater understanding of human trafficking and a desire to educate others about it.
Schwendinger said people shouldn’t be under any illusion that human trafficking is only a problem in other countries; it occurs within the United States as well, including in the Midwest. “It’s a worldwide problem,” he said. “It’s a $150-billion illegal industry worldwide that we know of.”
As someone who appreciates the outdoors and enjoys cycling, Schwendinger decided to “invest a bit more ‘physical’ energy” into the cause and utilize his bike to spread the word on human trafficking. The path he chose to ride — from Omaha to Milwaukee — is a known trafficking route, he said.
Kevin began his journey in Omaha on Sept. 21. Wife Lynn accompanied him for the first four days of the trip but then needed to return home because of work obligations. Each night while on the road, Kevin stays with a host individual or family he lined up in advance of his trip through a variety of different faith, cycling and civic organizations. He is scheduled to reach Milwaukee and complete his ride on Oct. 6.
Though he and his wife are loosely affiliated with the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Schwendinger said he is not being sponsored by any organization and his endeavors are fully self-funded. He also said Iowa’s Attorney General’s Office is working with him through the Crime Victim Assistance Division and has been supportive of the ride.
While he is not soliciting any donations on his route, Schwendinger said he is encouraging the people he meets to turn to local organizations that are working on the issue of human trafficking and see how they might partner with them in their efforts, adding that many communities have “good interventions occurring that need support.”
Schwendinger said his faith has played an important role in his decision to do this bike ride. “Everyone has a sense of responsibility to live out their faith and to be proactive regarding issues of respect toward others,” he said. “When we see inequities played out — male and female, poverty issues — everyone has a responsibility to reach out and make the world a little better place.”
Kevin Schwendinger pedals during the early days of his 650-mile ride that started in Omaha and will go through parts of the archdiocese. (Contributed photos)