It was a windy ride from Kearney to Gering, but for those participating in the 13th annual Pony Express ride, a little wind isn’t a problem.
The group of motorcyclists, many from the Fraternal Order of the Eagles’ Eagle Riders, will make their away across the state carrying letters about children’s mental health. The letters were written by young people, their families and other supporters and will be delivered to the State Capitol on May 23.
Riders arrived at Cirrus House for their kickoff event on Wednesday evening, streaming the celebration on Facebook to comply with social distancing standards.
Today, they will head to Sidney, Ogallala, North Platte, Gothenburg and Kearney. On Friday, they’ll make their way to Grand Island, York, Columbus and Norfolk before arriving in Lincoln. Because of COVID-19, these events will also be streamed at facebook.com/ponyexpressride/.
Those involved in the ride hope to send the message that mental health is an important part of overall health and that kids need support. The bikers all wore green masks; green is the color associated with mental health awareness.
“We started this off 13 years ago because kids were being lost in the system,” said Bill Primrose, the ride coordinator.
Over the years, he’s encountered a lot of heartbreaking stories, and he knew something had to be done.
“The problems with these children need to be addressed,” he said. “They are our future leaders. Without them getting help now, our nation will suffer worse than it ever has.”
Site visit coordinator Holly Stevens said that when they were planning the 2020 ride, they had no idea what they’d be coming up against. COVID-19 has made the ride more important than ever, she said. Students had their lives turned upside down, many losing the only structure or support they had.
“It’s affected everybody,” Stevens said. “The backlash is going to come back on the next generation ... we’re going to see a huge elevation in services needed, and it’s all going to have to look different.”
She said the ride sends the message that there is more out there than “the system,” and that people care. Those at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services agree.
“For the past 13 years, we’ve been proud to have the Eagle Riders as a key partner in raising awareness for children’s mental health,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health in a statement earlier this week. “Year after year, their advocacy helps us deliver the message that there is hope and there is help for those who need it. That’s especially important given the challenges COVID-19 is presenting at this time.”
Primrose said he has his own grandchildren he worries about, and seeing what others have been makes him worry more.
“It’s hard to go to sleep sometimes thinking about that stuff,” he said.