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Pedal for Portage: Ontario cycling event supports youth battling substance abuse

Portage Ontario, a non-profit aiding young people struggling with addiction, organizes a province-wide cycling event to raise funds, encourage community involvement, and foster conversations on substance abuse.

Portage Ontario, a Canadian non-profit organization known for its work in assisting youth struggling with substance abuse, is extending a warm invitation to cyclists across Ontario for their Pedal for Portage event on Saturday, Sept. 23. The event is aimed at raising funds for the organization while promoting physical activity and community participation.

Ashley-Ann Maginnis, associate director of development for Portage Ontario, said, "We're inviting riders of all skill levels to join us for this cycling event, whether they're weekend warriors, daily commuters, training for triathlons or families.”

Participants can choose from 20, 45, 75, and 100-kilometre routes. There are various options to participate, including registering as a Portage Rider, which requires a $35 registration fee but no obligation to fundraise. Another option is the “Fundraise to Ride,” where participants register at no cost but are encouraged to fundraise a minimum of $50. 

"We understand it's tough right now, so we wanted to make this event accessible for everyone," Maginnis shared.

For those who care for causes that help at-risk youth and like to fundraise with their peers, the ride offers many incentives for them to do so.

For those unable to make it on Sept. 23, the organization has created a Freedom Riders category. 

"They get to ride out on their own time, at their own pace, anytime in the week leading up to Sept. 23."

The event also offers track races, which adds a different dimension to the cycling event. Participants can join in 100 metre, half a kilometre, or a five-lap relay race around the horse race track located at the event's venue, the Grand River Agricultural Societies.

The Pedal for Portage event is about more than just fundraising and cycling; it's about opening up conversations around substance abuse. Maginnis sees the event as an opportunity for families to discuss the topic.

"Many young people are experiencing substance use disorder or mental health issues a lot earlier. This event can be a catalyst for families to talk about what Portage is and how we help young people who are struggling," she said.

About Portage Ontario

Portage Ontario, a non-profit organization established in 1985, operates a residential drug addiction rehabilitation centre for youth in Elora, Ontario.

In the therapeutic community environment, residents work through the underlying issues that caused their substance abuse and develop a set of social competencies that will help them deal with the challenges of everyday life without resorting to drug abuse. They develop the self-esteem and confidence to go on to lead healthy, productive, drug-free lives.

The Portage Elora treatment centre serves Ontario youth referred by parents, schools, family physicians, hospitals, other addiction-treatment and youth-serving agencies, as well as Youth Justice and the Children's Aid Society.

"Portage Ontario has helped tens of thousands of people since its inception. We're proud of our impact, and we're committed to continuing to help young people overcome substance abuse and live healthy, happy, and productive lives," Maginnis shared.

Talking about the fundraising goals of the Pedal for Portage event on Sept. 23, Maginnis said, “Portage fundraises to provide meaningful value add services: free treatment to anyone seeking help even when all of its government-funded beds are occupied, 18 months of free aftercare, parent groups, bursaries for attending trades programs or post-secondary education at a college or university, skills development, workplace readiness certifications, experiential outings to develop leadership, woodworking skills, music and arts programs, etc.”

“The aim is to create a truly holistic program for our youth. Many who have attended Portage have gone on to become paramedics, soldiers, artists, business owners, construction workers, social workers, etc — the backbone of our society.”

By providing such care, Portage Ontario is changing the narrative around youth substance abuse, demonstrating that with the right help, everyone can lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

Maginnis urges the community to support organizations like Portage, noting that while substance use disorder is a universal issue, it's rarely discussed openly due to stigma and misplaced blame. 

"We need to talk about it. We need to provide a hand to help our friends and family in need.”

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