The following column was written by Hayden Kessinger, Do Good Ambassador 2021-2022. Hayden was born and raised in the small town of Easton, Maryland, and never saw himself becoming a Terp. After two years at a local community college and one year working full-time in the even smaller town of St. Michaels, he decided he needed a change of pace and applied to the kinesiology program at UMD. Despite the love he had for his hometown and an aversion to city life, Hayden found a second home at UMD and graduated in the spring of 2023. Now it’s time for another break in his academic career; this summer, he is cycling across the country with a team dedicated to ensuring no young adult faces cancer alone. Upon arrival in San Francisco, he plans to join an AmeriCorps program to continue serving individuals and communities in need.
It’s pretty neat how kindness and service are almost always met with even more kindness and service; if we can do just a little bit of good, there seems to be an upward spiral of positive consequences that makes doing good easier and better.Hayden Kessinger Do Good Ambassador '21-'22
After a year of fundraising for the Ulman Foundation, you’d think I’d have a solid answer to the question I get almost every day: what inspired you to do this? But alas, my response is never the same. I typically start by giving credit to my family, friends, mentors and all the other people who, through their love, kindness and everyday example, helped me uncover an innate desire to serve others unconditionally – something I believe exists in all humans. As a new transfer student at UMD, I went straight to TerpLink in hopes of making campus feel a little less overwhelming – I wrote down more than 20 clubs that piqued my interest and began weighing my options. I honestly don’t have a good explanation for why I was drawn to organizations like the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, the Red Cross Club, and Silver and Gold Pen Pals but after joining them for a few meetings, I was hooked on serving the campus community.
As I got more involved with these groups, I was also learning about the complexities and inequities of public health and sports. After a year at UMD, my future was once again foggy; there were so many problems I wanted to help solve and I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one. One problem I hadn’t given much thought to was cancer, specifically within the adolescent and young adult population. That changed with a great deal of rapidity toward the end of June 2022 when I received a GroupMe notification from the Red Cross Club that captivated me enough to put down my Xbox controller. I read the words “cross-country run and cycling trip” and laughed out loud with joy and disbelief before emailing the Ulman Foundation to confirm that their “4K For Cancer” (4K) program was real. Two days later, I found out it is in fact very real – every summer, young adults sign-up to raise vital funds to support Ulman’s services and cycle or run across America. The Ulman Foundation is a Baltimore nonprofit that has been supporting young adults, and their families, impacted by cancer for over 25 years. Up to nine young adults can stay at the “Ulman House” – a free home away from home just blocks away from Johns Hopkins – while they receive treatment. The foundation does not do any cancer research; instead, they focus all their efforts on making sure no young adult faces cancer alone. I and the rest of Team Tahoe are almost in Nevada after 50+ days of cycling from Baltimore to San Francisco this year with 11 other members on Team Tahoe. 4K began as a Johns Hopkins University student group more than 20 years ago and since being acquired by Ulman in 2011, has raised more than 7 million dollars in the fight against cancer!
More important than the cycling, my teammates and I have been and will continue fundraising all summer to help the Ulman Foundation provide adolescent and young adult patients with diagnosis navigation, housing, community and financial support. So far, thanks to close to 100 unique donors, I’ve raised more than $5,500, and as a team, we’ve raised $55,000+! Though we’re a little smaller than past teams, we hope to double this by the time we arrive in San Francisco on August 12. In the 70 days between our departure from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on June 4 and our arrival in San Francisco, we’ll be cycling 50-100 miles every day, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. I hope to connect with these strangers much like I plan to connect with my teammates and end this summer with new friends from each of the 11 states we visit.
Through my fundraising and outreach for the Ulman Foundation, I’ve learned many valuable lessons, the most glaring being the simple fact that good people exist all around us. From bike shoes to sleeping bags to 18-in-one soap, there is much to be acquired in preparation for a 70-day cycling adventure. Normally, all this gear would cost a pretty penny and while friends and family have helped me pay for a few things, the overwhelming majority of my gear has been donated by strangers. I have to give a special shoutout to Laurie and Proteus Bicycles in College Park who, after I introduced myself in October, have gone above and beyond to get me ready for this summer. It’s pretty neat how kindness and service are almost always met with even more kindness and service; if we can do just a little bit of good, there seems to be an upward spiral of positive consequences that makes doing good easier and better.
My life has truly changed since registering for 4K last summer. Not because of the good I’ve done but because of the good I’ve witnessed and received. I have only been a vessel through which others have made incredible contributions to an important cause. All I do is ask for generosity; it is everyone else who provides it. With so much kindness all around me, I have been inspired to be kinder and do more good myself. Now I spend much of my free time learning and/or thinking about effective altruism and encouraging others to do the same. In April, I decided to take a pledge to give at least 10 percent of my income to effective charities for the rest of my life. Since January, in addition to in-kind contributions to local charities, I’ve donated more than $200 from my personal savings to organizations like the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Education For All and Help Women & Girls funds, Good Food Institute, and of course the Ulman Foundation. I share this not because I want a pat on the back but rather because I want it to become normal. Currently, we’re constantly exposed to messaging of individualism and consumerism while charitable giving is almost taboo. I would love to see Instagram posts showcasing donations and volunteering instead of vacations and designer clothes.
Upon arrival in San Francisco, I plan to join an AmeriCorps program to work alongside communities to do a little more good. After that, I think I will apply to the Peace Corps to further my impact, expand my cultural knowledge, and grow as a professional and human being.
To follow along with Hayden’s cycling journey, check out his team blog at teamtahoe.substack.com, or follow Hayden on Instagram. For more information on the Ulman Foundation, please visit their websites at ulmanfoundation.org and 4kforcancer.org.