Milford's Folks on Spokes benefit offers in-person, virtual ride-walk options

MILFORD — With state funds dwindling, Bridges Healthcare needed an infusion of financing - that’s where Al Diamond and Ray Vitali rode in to save the day.

Three decades later, the pair’s creation - Folks on Spokes/Step Forward Memorial Walk, a benefit offering participants the chance to cycle or walk for a cause - continues to be a significant fundraiser for the organization’s mental health and addiction recovery services.

“It was started for financial reasons,” Diamond said. “Bridges had budgetary problems because of the State of Connecticut was decreasing money allocated to agencies for mental health. At a Bridges board meeting, we came up with the bike race idea to increase funds for programs or help anyone in needed.”

The benefit began as a bicycle ride, but over the years walking has been added to the mix. This year’s benefit, because of the pandemic, offers in-person and virtual options for participation. The in-person event is scheduled to begin Oct. 3 at Fowler Field in Milford.

“Folks on Spokes is a major fundraiser that has been sustainable for Bridges Healthcare, over the years and hopefully well into the future,” Vitali said about what is one of the state’s longest running charitable bike rides.

The celebration will feature music, food and special memorabilia. Metro Star Properties is the presenting sponsor for this year’s special event.

“We will have a display of photos from past rides, a ‘cycling through the decades’ costume contest, music from 24/7 Entertainment featuring songs from the ’90s through today,” Jocelyn Murray, spokesperson for Bridges Healthcare, said. “We’ll offer special recognition to our grand marshals, longtime riders sponsors and volunteers.”

“Since the event began in 1991, the greater Milford community has been riding and now walking to support Bridges Healthcare’s vital programs for mental health and substance abuse,” said Jennifer Fiorillo, Bridges CEO and president.

“We appreciate the strong bonds we’ve created with our clients, supporters and event sponsors,” Fiorillo added, “and look forward to remaining Milford’s local connection to health.”

This year, Vitali and Diamond will serve as the event’s honorary grand marshals.

“To be an honorary grand marshal serves as a confirmation that the work that was put into over the years is recognized by my peers,” said Vitali.

In 2020, The Folks on Spokes Ride/Step Forward Walk was held virtually due to the pandemic. Murray said participants registered and then rode or walked on their own anytime during the week of Sept. 13.

This year, participants can either ride or walk in person or they can do it virtually. Event officials said those who take part virtually have to register to walk or ride on their own, and they’ll send them a t-shirt and a Subway coupon. Participants can walk or ride by using a combination of the event’s 5-, 10-, 20- and 40-mile routes along the Connecticut coastline. Those participants who are planning to participate virtually can use their own routes.

“The event’s routes all start at Fowler Field in downtown Milford and are marked with the familiar blue and white FOS (Folks on Spokes) road signs throughout Milford and West Haven along the shoreline,” Murray said.

Registration fees are $40 per cyclist, $30 per walker and $15 per child under 18. Included in the registration fee is a free t-shirt and lunch from Subway. CappuGino’s Coffee & Shakes food truck will be on-site serving food and beverages for purchase.