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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Episode 73: Josh Crisp and Sara Mitchell

Hear from Pedal for Alzheimer’s Sara Mitchell and Josh Crisp about how one idea has created an impact on a community that suffers with dementia.

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast. It’s an exciting episode because we are sitting down together doing something a little bit different. I get the opportunity to interview Josh and Sara today. Sara, our producer, normally spends her time behind the camera telling us what we need to be doing and now I get to tell her what to do. Well, not really but I get to ask the questions at least today and then Josh, my buddy, we get to just have a discussion and the topic today is going to be all centered around Pedal for Alzheimer’s and the initiative and not-for-profit that you guys have created a couple years ago. And we’re going to go through that. 

But before we go into that, Josh, our listeners, we’re just so grateful for them. We have a lot of new listeners out there and a lot of loyal listeners that have been listening from the beginning and we can tell the numbers continue to go up and up and up and the engagement on our social channels goes up. All the messages that come in that are sent to us, we’re just so grateful. 

Josh: I’m telling you man. It’s really amazing. It’s very rewarding this passion project that we set out to start, you know over a year ago now and every LinkedIn message or comment or Instagram or Facebook or email or when someone stops us at a conference or wherever we are and just says something simple like, hey, we love listening or we listen to the show when we’re walking our dog every day and it’s our favorite thing to do when we’re driving to work or going home from work. Man, it just makes it all worth it. It’s amazing. 

Lucas: Yeah, and Sara’s the front line of that often times because the messages come in through the website and she’s sending that out to us. It’s just been really validating. 

Sara: It is and you know, it’s a lot of different perspectives. It’s all a lot of different people. We were talking earlier about the areas and the locations and the demographics of people who are downloading and listening. It’s phenomenal to see the wide variety of people who are listening.

Lucas: Totally. I’ve got our statistics pulled up here. Thank you Chicago, which makes a lot of sense. Ton of people in the business are in Chicago. Knoxville, Tennessee, of course, where you guys hail from, you got a big audience there. New York continues to be a big demographic for seniors housing, probably on the capital side. There’s people listening there. Lincoln, Nebraska. We know why our friends at NRC are listening over there. Virginia; Ashburn, Virginia.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Atlanta, Stamford, Connecticut. There’s people listening there. I’m not exactly sure why but we’re grateful.

Josh: Even some international, right? 

Lucas: Yeah. We scale well in Canada and in the UK, Australia and China, we have listeners.  We’d love to know who you are. Please send us a message, but we’re just grateful. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do this and we are constantly trying to think up ways to bring value back to our listeners and we want to connect with you. We’ll continue to push forward, bringing the thought leadership from these conferences to our listeners and try to be as creative as possible to attract outsiders into the business because we need good people. 

Josh: Yeah, absolutely and the show really is not possible without the listeners. You know, we can produce it, we can work hard on it, but if no one’s listening to it, no one’s talking about it. It’s all for naught, so it’s awesome. 

Lucas: So let’s transition into Pedal for Alzheimer’s. Take us back to what was the origin story of this? Why did you start this? Where did it come from? And where is it going? 

Josh: Wow. Yeah, so I’ll try to be brief because I know we’ve got that relatively short show. So, you know, I would say every year around the fall, I become a little bit reflective: reflecting on how the year’s going, what I’ve done well, what I haven’t done well, what I need to do better. Setting goals for the new year. In the fall of 2016 was that time for me, sitting around literally with some buddies on the back porch talking about those things and it led to, kind of, what we were all doing in our personal lives and at work and some of the challenges and the causes that we wanted to support. 

2016 was a big year are the Knoxville area where I live because that summer the legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt had died. She had been diagnosed several years earlier with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Very aggressive and when she was diagnosed, I remember one of the first things, actions she took was a very selfless one which was to make it a very public thing. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it. She wanted to talk about it. She wanted to make sure that she used her influence for good and set up the Pat Summitt Foundation, the Pat Summitt Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center was kind of nearing opening. They were set to open, I think it was like January of 2017.

So I was really looking as I was reflecting on that upcoming year, what could I do to push myself out of my comfort zone in work, in giving, and in physical ways, you know, athletically and just to push myself in wellness. So literally just kind of came up with this idea to ride my bike or ride a bike because I didn’t even have a bike at that time, ride a bike from Knoxville as far south as I possibly could which was Key West. And, so, came up with this idea to do it in honor of the legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. The more and more I thought about it and talked about it, kind of the brand formed: Pedal for Pat. And it was it became a 1,098-mile bike ride and honor 1,098 career wins. 

I mean that was really how it happened. I told some of my buddies, you know, I was going to do this and they’re like, you’re crazy. You won’t do it and for anybody that knows me when they say I won’t do something, that’s a pretty good indication I’m going to do it. It was kind of like double dog daring me. I approached the Pat Summitt Foundation, Tyler Summit, and got their blessing and next thing you know, we’re announcing that event in early 2017. 

Lucas: And you’re known for being a remarkable team builder. And so this step out in faith to try to do something great has also led to some really great relationships because that’s how Sara came into the picture here. 

Josh: Yeah. Absolutely. So I’ll be honest. I really had no idea that the event, the cause, would get legs like it did but I think because of who it was for and who it was honoring and because of the cause and it impacts so many people, a lot of people wanted to rally behind that and wanted to get involved. And your right, it did attract some awesome people. I would have never probably met Sara had it not have been for this event. 

And so, you know, one of the things that happened immediately is I realized how much I did not know. I did not own a bike at that time. I had never ridden a road bike and I knew that by doing this event, it would require a team of people to help me accomplish it, to help the event be safe and successful. And so very early on once the story kind of caught traction, I remember I was sitting at the NIC Conference in San Diego for our industry was out there and the story had just gone out and this was around March of 2017. And there was several reporters that started calling; reporters from Sports Illustrated, from ESPN, from USA Today and several folks like that.

Lucas: Some pretty big names.

Josh: Some pretty big names and obviously that was because of you know, who the cause was for and so that attracted their attention. But when that story went out and I started getting all these calls I thought, oh my gosh, you know, I’m just trying to learn how to ride a bike and to pull this event off a few months later. I need help, you know, I need help managing the PR and marketing and telling the story and that’s when I actually reached out the Sara. I did not know her but obviously very successful professional in our area in Knoxville and in that region and in that state and literally just kind of told her my crazy idea and I just basically really need your help. I can’t pay you anything. Would you be willing to help out with this cause and come volunteer and she did. 

Sara: I said yes. 

Josh: She said yes and she came on board and really took the event to a whole other level as far as communicating the mission and and basically developing a strategy for that, managing media relations and all those kind of things because it became very much a regional, a pretty big regional story. And like I said, we were able to be covered by a lot of major regional and national networks. And I don’t know, is that kind of how you remember it, Sara? 

Sara: Yeah, it is. And I was going to say, you know, with- so there’s a short backstory in that I, like Josh, had no cycling experience other than a couple of really bad wrecks in which I said I will never ride a bike again. So when Josh was telling me about this event, I thought, man, I love Coach Summitt. I was obviously a huge Tennessee fan. I’ve been a reporter in Knoxville. I had worked under Coach Summit at the University of Tennessee, and I was truly inspired by not only what she did as a coach and a leader, but also what she was very quickly doing with the clinic right before she passed. 

So I thought, man, I don’t know anything about cycling but I love nutrition. I love fitness. I love you know, I think that I can love cycling as far as the sports aspect of it. So there was a lot of collaboration even just on the beginning side of it because I didn’t know anything about a cycling event and with the media, with the front page on Sports Illustrated digital, with all of these tweets and Facebook posts and all those things, we very quickly tapped into sponsorships of not only financial gifts but also gifts of nutrition items, of tents and coolers and the things that we would need for the day-to-day operations of the event. Because what began is just a couple of people riding from Knoxville to Key West very quickly became an entire support team, a team of cyclists and a lot of people who would come out and cheer us on. 

So, the logistics of just planning to get on the trip, was pretty significant. And then once the trip started it changed every day. 

Lucas: Well and that also let into just even bigger growth for the platform of Solinity. Sara, you have an outsider’s perspective of coming from the professional world of journalism and sports and now you have landed in the career of working with senior living and continuing the process of developing out these cycling events. You’re much more than marketing, communications, you’re turning into, you’re an operator and you’re dealing with all these operations. So what has that transition been like?

Sara: So I was actually transitioning out of news reporting and anchoring at the time that Pedal for Pat was starting. So it was a perfect timing which I didn’t even really know that it was perfect timing and I’ve told a lot of people including Josh that trip changed my life because it changed my career, it changed the path I was on and gave me a purpose and a mission and this newfound passion that I love now, which has ultimately become Solinity. It’s become Bridge the Gap and all of the things that we do, now Pedal for Alzheimer. So I mean, it changed my life. That’s how I summarize that trip that’s now a nonprofit and has led into so many different things that now leads everything that I’m doing in senior living. It was super impactful.

Lucas: Incredible. Let’s talk about the results of year 1 and year 2 before we go into what’s happening this year.

Josh: Yeah. So, you know, we put the team together and you know, again just how that we could talk a long time with y’all. I’ll spare everyone the details of how the team formed but people just really rallied around the mission. I’m talking like world-class people that are experts in their walk of life and their professions that really enabled us to be a huge success more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined so that first year, we did make the trip in spite of weather challenges, road challenges and all the things that go into getting cyclist over a 12-day period, 1,098 miles and 5 states safely from point A to point B. We raised a ton of awareness. We raised a lot of money from that one event. We were able to from that one event to give $100,000 check to the Pat Summitt Foundation which went to help folks at the Pat Summitt Clinic. And so, you know, I was honestly very satisfied with that. More than satisfied and and I was just thinking, ‘wow, we did it’ and I was not really expecting what came after that which was the kind of outcry that hey we gotta keep doing this and I remember when someone asked me before we were even finished with our first event, like when’s your next event when you going to do this again? What are you doing next time? This is this is like a one-hit wonder if you know, I just want to live through it one time. And and then even after I finished I thought you know, my backside will never be the same. But after a little bit of rest and in being encouraged by a lot of leaders and team members and support crew to continue on, we ended up doing it for a second year. We changed the name a little bit from being a very specific event into an actual organization called Pedal for Alzheimer’s.

We did that for a lot of reasons, but that was very well accepted. We decided that hey, if we wanted to do this and to allow people to be able to give charitably, we should apply for a 501c3. That was something I had never done also. So definitely stretched me out of my comfort zone. We applied; we became an authorized 501c3 by the IRS last July. July of 2017 and our second event, now with those two events, we’ve given over $170,000 in just two events to charities that support our mission of research for Alzheimer’s and finding a cure, to educating people on the disease, to actually caring for the people that are suffering and really importantly, not to forget caring for the family caregivers, the professional caregivers, those that are working every day to care for the folks that are struggling. That’s our simplified mission. That’s what we’ve achieved over the last couple years. 

And so now we’re you know in our 3rd year which is hard to believe. Gearing up for another really successful event.

Lucas: That’s incredible and I’ve been following along the journey more than just because we’re friends. The Instagram page and the type of content that you guys are putting out, it’s clear. This is not just a one-time event once a year. You guys have turned into an entire cycling platform that is really gaining the attention. I’m not a cyclist. But man, you guys are rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the cycling industry and business. Talk to us about that.

Sara: There are so many people who have fallen in love with the team, and the mission, and the passion behind Pedal for Alzheimer’s and there is a very long list of people that we should name and call out and show our appreciation for. A couple of those big names, obviously right now with the Tour de France going on, we can call out George Hincapie, the team at Hincapie Sports Sportswear has been truly amazing. They have designed and customized our kits every year which is the jerseys and our whole team swag that we wear, so polos and everything down to gloves and and shoe covers and things like that. So when we start out in Knoxville, it’s in the fall, you can’t imagine that we cover every season in those twelve days. There’s a lot of people that have made that possible. George Hincapie and the team at Hincapie Sportswear; they’ve been amazing as well as others. I mean, there’s so many people who have helped make Pedal for Alzheimer’s possible; some of those being cyclists, the teams. Now, the three teams are pretty incredible. We’ve had professionals from all over the world. Now, we have our first International cyclist for 2019. Can we announce that already? We’re super excited.

We have had friends from the industry, outside of the senior living industry. We’ve had very young cyclists. I think 22 was the youngest cyclists the first year all the way up to…we had the oldest cyclist who was 65 when he wrote with this the first year. So it’s pretty phenomenal.

Lucas: Incredible.

Josh: Yea, it has been great. You’re exactly right. Professionals, professional support from the highest level. I mean this week actually we’ve been watching the Tour de France and some of the faces that you see on TV are surrounding our event and helping make the event possible. And so, you know when I look back and think, gosh, I mean just a couple years ago, I didn’t even own a bikes. I didn’t even know how to ride a bike, and now we’ve got the support of these people and that really I think just says a lot about the cause because I think every single person that’s even listening to our show today, if they don’t have a family member directly impacted, they know someone impacted, very close to them by Alzheimer’s. And so it’s something that people are very passionate about and to use something like cycling, an event that’s great exercise than and we know the positive implications on the body from that but also something that’s fun and something that you can use for a good cause. I’ll also say our industry is just very giving and just such great people. We know that but they really rallied behind that and I could never name all the people but there’s been some big ones like in NRC, PointClickCare and TIS Insurance and on and on and on, there’s been these groups that in big and small ways are rallying behind a team and it’s more and more every year as the event grows.

Lucas: There’s a major connection here with the senior living industry. When you look at the Alzheimer’s Association and the scale that that has reached on a global network. It’s you know, it’s unfortunate that that is taking place because of all the people that are affected by this disease, but here in the states, the senior living industry is really the front lines of caregiving for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s so it’s appropriate I think that our industry really does get involved in these types of events. And I think that that is an awareness campaign that you guys are really starting in year 3 to try to connect with more people in the business.

(21:37) Josh: We’re exciting this year. Our board now gets together and so people know, every team member at Solinity knows this is our “give back.” This is how we don’t do this for our day job. We’re all volunteers. Sara and I are at any given day and all of the Solinity team and a host of volunteers, we put on our Pedal for Alzheimer’s hat and I kind of interchangeably all day and work on this all year round. This year we met and we thought you know, how can we help the people that help others and that being a senior living communities and programs that are working hard everyday to care for those people suffering and to care for their families. So we decided to offer Community Grant program.

Communities are actually right now applying and submitting applications and our Board will meet about a month before the event occurs this fall. We will be gifting from the money that comes in to  these very deserving programs and communities to help to underwrite care and support, education and training and things like that so I can’t wait to share some of those. We wish that we could give everyone a scholarship and Grant because if I could read the you the stories of the positive difference that’s being made in the types of programs and Innovation that people are doing to try to advance the cause, it’s really, really inspiring.

Lucas: So talk to us about what’s on tap for this year. Talk to us about the dates, what is the journey, give us the format and layout.

Josh: Sara, don’t let me mess anything up. We will actually start our 12-day journey from Knoxville to Daytona, Florida. Day one will be September 29th, That’s a Sunday. It’s open to the public. So that’s the only day that you can, no matter who you are sign up and just ride for a day. It’s a loop ride around Knoxville with multiple different mileage. It’s designed to whether you’re just, you want to have a little bit of fun, ride a few miles with the team and shed your enthusiasm for the cause and help raise the money. You can do that and ride a longer ride that day. And then the rest of the journey is going from city to city. Day two is where reality sets in for the team. We’ll have about 117 miles to our next city which os Asheville, North Carolina. A lot of elevation, a lot of hard work that day will be put forth and then we can begin our journey through South Carolina, we’ll hit the coast around day 5, day 6, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and work my way down.

So this year is kind of cool. We had so many people that want to ride but they say, ‘hey, you know, we can’t take off 12 days to ride’ and so we completely understand that and this year, we started a Purple Team and an Orange Team so you can sign up to be a part of either one of those teams. That’s a first six days or last six days, they cover a weekend. So you really only have to take all four to five days of work and it’s just an epic adventure. One of the coolest things that occurs from my perspective out of this trip is not only that you’re doing something that you feel so good about that you know the money is going such a great cause, but the people you meet on the trip from all walks of life. People that you probably would have never come in contact with, become your family. They really do. Even though we have international riders now, people that come in from all over the country and now the world, to ride with us, they all go back their separate ways, but you’re always connected and it’s the type of relationship where any team that we’ve had, any team member, I know I can pick up the phone right now if I was in need or had something to share with them and they’d answer the phone and talk to you. So it’s really cool.

Lucas: Is there anything new this year for people that are not able to actually spend the 6 or 12 days or the day trip, are they able to participate?

Sara: Absolutely. We need everyone. One of the things that I wanted to say is, not only do we need cyclists, but we also need volunteers and ambassadors. This year for the first time, we have an inaugural group of ambassadors who are carrying the brandin different states and around the US and we hope to expand that. We’re now in California and Utah and Nebraska and all over the place. So very excited about that. As far as the volunteers, we obviously have a pretty lean support team that goes with us, but there’s some of the most top notch, incredible individuals that you can imagine that come from all different walks of life, similar to the cyclists who go on the trip, but we need help with sponsorships, you know, we need help with donations. This year we’re also offering a virtual cyclist opportunity. So anyone, whether you are a road bike cyclist or a spin class junkie or just like to ride, you know for fun. You can accumulate miles. It’s $100 minimum donation, we’ll send you a team t-shirt and some swag to go along with it. We asked you to post on social media, share donation link and help us spread the word and an education and all of those things. So, become a virtual cyclist, support, volunteer, ride; there are so many options.

Lucas: You’ve eliminated all of my excuses.

Josh: That was our goal.

Sara: Spin class junkie is you.

Lucas: It’s making a big impact. Exciting ways that you guys, your initiative for this year. You guys are on social media. What’s the best way for people to get in touch and connect and fall the journey?

Sara: Pedalforalzheimers.org is the website. That’s where you can find bios, donation links and all of the information about the team and our sponsors there. You can email us info@pedalforalzheimers.org and obviously social media:  Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. So lots of video content, photos coming all the time and you know, the team wears purple and orange in honor, purple is the Alzheimer’s color and orange is for Coach Pat Summitt. So we have some pretty epic photos and videos that come from the event and lots of support team members and cyclists who make it all possible.

Lucas: It’s a lot of fun and I just want to tell our listeners who have not had the chance to meet Josh and Sara in person, they are better than you could ever imagine. Josh is the perfect example of a servant leader and Sara is one of the best professionals that I’ve ever encountered and had a relationship with. I’ve worked in other verticals and other industries and she is really the backbone behind all the digital content that Bridge the Gap media platform is turned into. We release content digital content 365 days a year and Sara is really the one that is Championing that effort on both on creative and just practically executing on that.

Josh: So I think that’s a great point that we need to make because we’re seeing that more and more where no matter what your background is, no matter what your career is, there’s application to use that skill set and that passion in our industry and that’s what makes it so awesome. So you can dive into something that is so worthwhile and you can feel so good about regardless of your skillset. 

Lucas: Exactly. So I may be biased. You guys are my best friends, but for our listeners, they are the real deal and I we encourage you to connect with them because they’re great connectors and networkers in team builders and and just great professionals. 

So, before we let the audience go, I don’t want to miss this opportunity because Solinity has been in all of the major news channels about what is happening with your company and for our listeners know that you don’t ever hear Josh talked about himself or his business on the podcast really because we’re trying to elevate whatever thought leadership and guest we have on the show, but you’re a guest on the show today and I’m not going to let you know because you have started a new company. It’s still a young business, but you guys are on the move. Talk to us about it. 

Josh: You caught me by surprise with that question. I didn’t think we were going to talk about that but thanks for asking. And so yeah, Solinity in last year 2018 was our first full year business and everything that I do, it’s always about building a team to accomplish much more than you ever could by yourself. I mean Pedal for Alzheimer’s was an example of that. Obviously our podcast wouldn’t be possible without the team that surrounds us, without Sara and all the people behind the scenes making it possible. And Solinity is no different, you know, we set out to really help be a catalyst, to move the senior care industry forward into the next generation of senior housing and that’s no small task. You know, that’s definitely bigger than me. It’s definitely bigger than my experience. And so yeah, we’ve been blessed to already have some great like-minded partners that share in that vision with Erin Holmes and 29th Street Capital and a host of others that have surrounded us. And so yeah, we’re doing some pretty cool things. Some more exciting announcements to come I can’t quite share yet, but definitely be following us. Sara does an awesome job at keeping our followers updated on that at solinitynews and solinty.com. 

And so yeah, it’s exciting as some new developments and some acquisitions, some renovations. Just trying to deliver an extremely high value and you know everything that we do everything that I do is kind of guided by the general principles of how can we improve quality of care? How can we make it more accessible and more affordable to everyone and I think that’s some of the biggest challenges, you know, that we face and that in the days ahead. It requires collaboration. I think the key to the future is collaboration, breaking down the silos that have divided us and as we come together we can do so much more than we ever get apart. 

Lucas: That’s awesome. Well, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to also just thank- Sara we have, our listeners probably don’t know this, we have maybe six-seven-eight different people on our team that help us produce the content that we have, right?

Sara: Right and they’re so great. And I love every single one of them. They’re all so talented from transcriptions that are on the website to website development and updates every single week to complete social media campaign where we’re pumping out content on Instagram stories to Facebook live videos and everything else to our YouTube page to someone who’s keeping up with those stats and those analytics, telling us who we’re reaching and where we going and what the vision is and then obviously making you guys look the best that you can- 

Josh: -that’s hard. 

Sara: No, it’s not hard. It’s not hard at all. 

Lucas: That’s a full time job. 

Sara: It’s not hard at all. Graphics and thanking our sponsors and giving shouts out to people who are making it possible. So yeah, we have an incredible team of a lot of people who are very talented. 

Lucas: Who are they? 

Sara: They are Kylie Hubbard. She’s in the Solinity office. Kylie does a great amount of work on the social media campaign as well as making sure that all the graphics are matching captions and promoting our guests in the stories and information that we’re providing. Matt Cho is the mastermind behind all of those cool graphics and clips that you see on social media. He’s a very talented editor and can mix the audio and the music and the video to make it a really pleasing presentation. And then TSOlife. They’re helping us with transcriptions on the website. So every episode is transcribed in full and those can be viewed on btgvoice.com. And then obviously we have our incredible videographers who are with us on the road at conferences and capturing those recap videos. We have Stu Conley out of Dallas, who we just met recently this year. 

Josh: A Dallas native. 

Sara: Yes. Follow him on Instagram. And Phillip McCall out of Knoxville, Tennessee. So awesome guys. A great group of people and then obviously our teams back at The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. 

Lucas: Awesome. What a great opportunity that this is to get the message out to our listeners. We’re so grateful and thankful and we just have a lot of fun doing this. 

Josh: Yeah. 

Sara: We do. 

Josh: We’re going to turn this mic around on you too, buddy. You’ve got a lot of exciting things going on and so obviously we need a whole episode designated just to that. 

Lucas: Another day, another day. So, to our listeners thank you so much for listening to us. It really means the world to us that you’ve given us your attention. And we want to connect with you. Send us a message, send us a like and a comment and we want to engage with you. And thanks for listening and joining us on another episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN and Sherpa.

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Episode 73: Josh Crisp and Sara Mitchell