LOS ANGELES — Two cousins and returned Mormon missionaries, Mason Bennett and Kenton Dursee, have been longboarding 650 miles down the California coast, from Santa Rosa to San Diego, since April 29 to help orphans in Romania who are living in foster homes and tutored by specialty teachers through the nonprofit organization “The Bridge of Love.”
Still in their early 20s, Bennett and Dursee are scheduled to arrive in San Diego on Monday, May 27. The ambitious cousins average about 27 miles a day with frequent fundraising stops along the way. They have already spoken at schools, community venues, churches and to anyone interested in hearing their story to help Romanian foster children. The consul general of Romania, the Honorable Eugen Chivu in Los Angeles, met with the duo to offer his appreciation for their efforts toward his country’s children.
With only their boards and backpacks, they have been camping along the highway, living just off of what they are carrying and the unexpected kindness of strangers.
“The Bridge of Love” foundation, created by Laurie and Scott Lundberg of West Jordan, has been helping the abandoned and orphaned children of Romania since 1999.
Bennett served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Romania and saw the effects of abandoned and orphaned children. He returned to the United States determined to help. Embracing his love for skateboarding, Bennett envisioned an idea that some people considered a little crazy, and “The Longboard for Love” project was born.
The cousins have already raised enough money to pay for a tutor — for the needy foster children — for one year. They are now working to achieve the funds for a second year’s salary. The affected children identified by the Bridge of Love foundation are striving to keep an academic pace congruent with their peer group outside of the assigned foster homes. The sum of $6,000 (U.S.) in Romania is enough to hire one tutor for a full year.
In addition to teaching the people his doctrinal beliefs and conducting language classes in English (for interested locals) while serving a mission in Romania, he consistently found opportunities to serve in each community where he lived. Because of his mission experience, Bennett was able to learn the culture, fluently speak the language and come to understand the nuances of Romanian people and their families.
The resulting exposure gave him an inside look at the assistance needed in various corners. When he returned to the U.S., Bennett was anxious to continue helping the people he had come to love. Skateboarding seemed a natural fundraising idea, combining his passion for longboarding and his inherent love for Romania.
“One thing that made me really sad was the situation of the children,” Bennett said. He became aware of the many orphaned and abandoned children, some of whom had no other choice than to beg daily for food. He felt the need to reach out to the upcoming generation, believing that education is the key to improve their lives.
Matthew Ball is the director of public affairs for the North America West area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.