By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Ride on through the rain, and sooner or later, Mr. Sun will look down and bless you.
Leaders at Central Texas Youth Services in Belton created a legend with their first Mystery Ride about this time last year. Eleven hardy souls headed their motorcycles into a driving rainstorm on a 120-mile course after plunking down registration fees to benefit the agency's Project Safe Place, which recruits, trains and supplies businesses and public agencies to shelter children and youth in crisis in Bell, Coryell and McLennan counties.
This Saturday was a whole lot drier and hotter; 73 cyclists navigated a route from the agency's parking lot in downtown Belton to Brookshire Brothers grocery store in McGregor, then to a Shell service station in Eddy, then to a Town & Country convenience store in Academy, picking up clues to guess the identity of a famous biker known as Indian Larry.
Those who got it right qualified for donated prizes, but "everybody gets something," said Amy Ward, one of the Project Safe Place coordinators, who maintains an office in Killeen.
Motorcycle rallies to benefit civic causes have been exploding in popularity lately, but most of the riders at Saturday's event seemed fiercely dedicated to the cause in question. Some were church groups, and many were Patriot Guards, but the club most in evidence was Bikers Against Child Abuse, particularly the Five Hills group from Copperas Cove, whose members protect, guide and mentor children in dangerous family situations.
BACA is a registered nonprofit corporation with the stated purposes of constant availability to victimized children to protect them from further abuse and reducing their fear.
"We're a nationwide organization, and we're in every community around here," said Mary Ann Bunke, mother of CTYS counselor Janine Bunke, a biker herself who first came up with the idea of the Mystery Ride.
"We go to the homes of children, we go to court with them, we help them any way we can. Attorneys call us for help. Schools call us."
The backs of their jackets say, "Keepers of the Children" and "No child deserves to live in fear."
"With all the efforts everybody's making, you would think child abuse would be slacking off a little," Bunke said, "but it's not. The need for us is growing."
Early registrants for the ride paid $10, and others paid $15. Overhead was little or nothing, because many businesses jumped on board with support.
The Temple Wal-Mart donated $1,000. The Wal-Mart in Bellmead, near Waco, donated a $500 gift card, and the one in Hewitt gave a $100 gift card, to be given in drawings. The Domino's Pizza in Belton anted up $50 in free pizza for the returning bikers, and the Waco YMCA awarded a three-month membership, worth $120.
In all, organizers had received 200 door prizes. Some other supporters were Texas Roadhouse, Kay's Motorcycle Mania in Nolanville, Starbuck's, Sam's Club, Southwest Airlines, Bush's Chicken, Golden Corral, Olive Garden, Hooters, McDonald's and On the Border. Some donated prizes, and some gave items for auction.
CTYS executive director Keith Wallace, himself a biker, sent the riders off in waves, recommending the most scenic routes and warning them to be especially careful in Moody and Eddy. "They make their budget with tickets," he said.
He said later, "Bikers are great about things like this. They're so popular because bikers are going to ride on Saturday anyway, and if there's a way they can help somebody at the same time, most of them will."
Many of them lead colorful lives. Robert Russell is a Shriner, and he and his wife, Marcelle Parish Russell, put on clown acts for hospitalized children. Riding a three-wheeler, the third member of their bike team is a peppy and graceful little Pomeranian named Star, who has a little pair of goggles and helmet of his own. As the ride was about to start, he pricked up his ears and stood on his hind legs for Marcelle to put on his gear.
Besides Project Safe Place, the nonprofit CTYS operates a transitional center for homeless youth, free 24/7 counseling to troubled youth and parents, education, training and referral services for parents, emergency shelter care for young children, juvenile crime and delinquency prevention services and a nationwide telephone hotline. It serves Bell, Lampasas, Coryell, Limestone, Falls, McLennan, Freestone and Milam counties.
CTYS administers the nationwide Project Safe Place locally. Qualified Safe Places, marked with yellow and black signs, receive any young people who come to them and give them secure places to wait while they call professionals or authorities to assess the situation and take any needed action.