South Lake Tahoe children learn compassion through Soulcycler project |

South Lake Tahoe children learn compassion through Soulcycler project

Kelly Smith Cassidy
Special to the Tribune
Rick Gunn of South Lake Tahoe will travel to Syrian refuggee camps in Greece and give backpacks to children in need.
Courtesy Photo |


Rick Gunn’s Soulcycler project to Syria, which starts Saturday, April 9, is only half way to his fundraising goal of $3,000. You can support him on his journey by donating to his GoFundMe campaign at

Learn more about Gunn through his Soulcycler project at

Oover the past few weeks, about 800 Tahoe-area elementary school children participated in the Soulcycler Refugee Backpack Project. It was created by South Lake Tahoe humanitarian, photojournalist, cycler and adventurer Rick Gunn. He will be traveling to Syrian refugee camps in Greece with backpacks for children starting next week, and is raising money to help fund his trip.

For Gunn, a deep purpose of the project is to connect cultures and to illicit a sense of oneness and responsiveness among those involved.

“It would have been too easy to ask for money to go and buy the backpacks and things,” he said. “But that wasn’t the point.

“I hope that through this process the kids will learn compassion beyond the project and throughout their lives.”

An inspiration to create

Gunn completed the Wheels of Peace Children’s Art Project a few years ago, in which he and friends visited classrooms in the U.S., Iran and Oman to foster non-violent conflict resolution amongst the children. This inspired him to create presentations for kids in South Lake Tahoe.

According to Gunn, “75 percent of Americans do not have a passport. When I left on my journey, I saw my neighbor sitting on his couch, holding his remote, watching TV. And when I came home three years later, he was sitting in the same chair, in the same place, with the same remote, watching the same TV. I felt as if nothing had ever changed. And so knew I had to share the world with those who would listen.”

The Soulcycler Syrian Refugee Project has been one such outpouring of Gunn’s mission to connect cultures.

During recent visits to local schools — including Bijou Community School, Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School in Meyers, South Tahoe Middle School and Tahoe Valley Elementary School — Gunn shared images and videos of his trip alongside impactful videos of how others in the world work together through acts of kindness.

“First, I want to show the kids how people and even animals help each other beyond any differences they might have,” Gunn said. “From there, I show them the refugee crisis in places like Syria. That seems to really catch their attention,”

School presentations have proved incredibly impactful for the children, according to teachers.

“(The project) has really brought up deep conversations in class,” said Marisa Lopez Green, a Bijou Community School second-grade teacher.

According to Bijou principal Cindy Martinez, “Rick’s ideas fit in 100 percent with our school’s mission. We are all about how we can support our community. And that includes our global community as well.”

Students get involved

After viewing presentations and following Gunn’s initiative, local students collected backpacks with essential items inside such as school supplies and toiletries — in just 12 days. Gunn will take the backpacks to Greece Saturday, April 9, and distribute them to Syrian refugee children.

Parents of the kids involved with the project were also touched by the project.

Melina Wallisch, mother of two Bijou Community School students, said, “As soon as my kids came home that day, they were so excited to tell me about the project and immediately started to go through their own personal items to add to the backpacks.”

As part of the project, local students also made artwork to put in the packs.

“It was so moving to see what the kids came up with in their art,” said Alana Cayabayb, a second-grade teacher at Bijou Community School. “We printed out Arabic words for peace and love and the kids put them on their artwork.”

When asked how the project made the kids feel, often responses were questions, such as “why are they there?” “where are their parents?” or “what is war?”

Students additionally expressed amazement that their artwork and the backpacks will be taken to the children in the refugee camps.

A second-grader, Tegan, said, “Rick is a good and brave person. I want to help others someday, too.”

At this time, Gunn no longer needs backpacks or additional items, but is still in need of monetary funds for transportation. So far, he has raised a little more than half of the funds needed.

“I have traveled around the world and I can survive, but there are always additional needs,” Gunn said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User