Mission complete: PVPA student completes 300-mile bike ride to promote voting

  • Charlotte Powell, 14, a ninth grader at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, completed a 300-mile bike ride this week to promote voting ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. She and her parents arrived on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., widely considered the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848, and toured the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Submitted photo/Jennifer Powell

  • Charlotte Powell, 14, left, a ninth grader at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, and her father Russell Powell, right, completed a 300-mile bike ride this week to promote voting ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Charlotte and her parents arrived on Monday, Oct. 10, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., widely considered the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848, and toured the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Submitted photo/Jennifer Powell

  • Charlotte Powell, 14, a ninth grader at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, completed a 300-mile bike ride this week to promote voting ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. She and her parents arrived on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., widely considered the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848. Here, she rides her bike on Route 20 in the area of Sharon Springs, N.Y. Submitted photo/Jennifer Powell

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2022 5:56:55 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — A ninth grader at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School completed a 300-mile bike ride this week to promote voting in the Nov. 8 general election, and in addition to collecting memories on the road with her parents, she was lauded by civic-minded women in several cities and registered 16 new voters.

Charlotte Powell, 14, and her father Russell Powell rode their bikes out of the PVPA theater on Oct. 5, cheered on by the entire student body, the staff and administrators, a cluster of reporters and state Rep. Jake Oliveira, D-Ludlow.

After numerous stops along the way to visit voter registration drives — including Mount Holyoke College, Smith College in Northampton and the Women’s Club of Albany, New York, where a reception was held to salute Charlotte — the Powells arrived on Monday in Seneca Falls, New York, regarded as the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement in 1848, and visited the National Women’s Hall of Fame and other landmarks.

“The best part was reaching the end, and when I made several stops at the universities because I got to meet all the people” running the drives,” Charlotte said on Thursday. She also walked around college and university campuses with other volunteers to sign up new voters.

At the Women’s Club, 10 people stood outside with signs showing their support.

“I got to go inside and meet with them and talk to them, and they were all so excited about what I was doing,” she said.

Charlotte’s mother Jennifer, followed the cyclists in a minivan. The first three nights, she drove her family home to Wilbraham, then back to their last checkpoint in the morning to continue where they left off. The rest of the time, they stayed in a short-term rental in Auburn, N.Y.

The bike ride averaged 50 miles per day and Charlotte handed out 100 pledge coins to remind voters to participate in the election.

“Sometimes it was hard to convince people to accept our pledge coin. A lot of times they thought I was selling something,” she said.

The teen, who is ineligible to vote for more than three years until she turns 18, had never undertaken a ride like this. She and her father started training over the summer.

“Things didn’t always go our way on the trip. We had a flat tire on the car, had to replace some tires on the bikes,” Russell said.

Charlotte is proud that she achieved a difficult goal in spite of any setbacks and she said she learned about herself in the process.

“I realized my own personal abilities and how I’m willing to go and talk to people and ask them if they’re registered, and how other people are very willing to help the world around them,” Charlotte said. “It was pretty intense, but it was really cool.”

A planned tour of the New York State Capitol fell through because of scheduling problems and the flat vehicle tire, but the Powells stopped by for a brief visit anyway.

On Tuesday, before heading home, Charlotte and Russell were riding down the Erie Canal bike trail when a woman called out to remind them to vote. She said she had just seen a vehicle nearby — it was Jennifer’s — emblazoned with the word “Vote” and promotions for the bike ride, and she was inspired to spread the word.

Asked if she would continue to use endurance rides to raise awareness of causes she cares about, she said, “Maybe next time not a bike ride. Maybe something else. Maybe something bigger.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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