COLUMBUS — About a dozen motorcyclists cruised into town Friday afternoon.
Dressed in black leather vests and jackets, the men and women took a moment to rest at the local Eagles Club before hopping back on their bikes and hitting the road.
It was a brief reprieve along the approximately 1,000-mile journey. There are several other stops planned during the three-day trip across the state for the Eagle Riders.
The motorcyclists, who are part of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, certainly enjoy the open road, but this excursion is about bringing attention to children's mental health issues.
“The Eagle Riders are riding to raise awareness about the need for children to have adequate mental health services,” said Stan Bills.
Bills was part of the effort 10 years ago when the Eagle Riders started the Pony Express Ride Across Nebraska.
“What can raise awareness better than having a bunch of bikers freezing in the rain?” joked Bills, who is also executive director of the Snow-Redfern Foundation in Alliance, which supports charities and disadvantaged youth.
This year’s ride started Thursday in Gering and ends Saturday in Lincoln. The riders visit 12 cities along the way while collecting letters of support for their cause. Those letters will be delivered to the State Capitol.
“Our best year was over 3,000 letters,” Bills said.
This year they will likely collect around 1,000.
The number of riders taking part in the event continues to grow.
“We hardly had anybody when we started. The weather can hurt,” Bills said, referencing the rain and cold temperatures they encountered this week.
Regardless of the weather, the riders continue to rack up miles to bring attention to the need for better mental health services for children.
Bills said he takes part in the annual journey because kids are his passion and he has spent his professional career helping at-risk youth.
The benefit ride has made a difference, he said. He is seeing improvements in the Panhandle Partnership for Health and Human Services, a nonprofit organization of 11 Panhandle counties he belongs to that provides resources and support for families.
“In the 10 years we have been doing this, we have seen an improvement in our services and we network better. Because of these efforts and the fact that our Eagle Riders have such an interest in this, the organizations are more on top of grants and sharing with each other,” Bills said.