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They Ride, They Give

When you see a group of motorcycle riders on the road, there’s a very good chance that you’re witnessing funds being raised for a local charity.

McHenry County Illinois Harley Owners Group (McHOG) descended on Woodstock on a recent Sunday morning for a ride organized by Woodstock Harley-Davidson to benefit multiple sclerosis (MS) research.

“Our mission is to ride and have fun, but most of our members feel a responsibility to give back to the local community,” said Mike Smith, director of McHOG. “We do that by sponsoring various charities throughout the year. It’s the right thing to do.”

Just who belongs to such groups? For most, the price of membership is a motorcycle and a license to ride one. For some, you don’t even need to have a motorcycle or know how to ride. You should, however, be interested in giving while you’re having fun. It seems these folks have a good time while doing great things for a lot of worthy causes.

“Riders have huge hearts,” said Cricket Jackson, marketing coordinator at Woodstock Harley-Davidson. “They could be out on the road by themselves, but they come for the camaraderie and to give to a good cause. The same riders often show up week after week if they’re not at another ride for another cause.”

Local and National Groups

There are a number of active motorcycle groups in the area, some local and some national in scope. For example, according to Gary Boselyn, captain of the local chapter of Patriot Guard Riders, the group boasts in the neighborhood of 200,000 members nationally, 2,000 in Illinois and about 200 locally.

This group was formed to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each event in which the group participates has two basic objectives: to show respect for fallen heroes, their families and their communities; and shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

Another national group, Rolling Thunder was formed to publicize Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW-MIA) issues and to help protect future veterans from being left behind should they become POW-MIA, according to Wayne Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for the group’s local chapter. Kirkpatrick makes the point that Rolling Thunder is not a motorcycle club. Many of its 80,000 members are not riders, but rather individuals who support the organization’s mission.

A third group, the McHenry County Road Pirates, consists of 100 members, many whom also participate in one of the national organizations. The common denominator is a willingness to give. The Pirates, for example, support three local charities:

  • Little Angels is a home for children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex medical needs. Located in Elgin, it offers around-the-clock skilled nursing, therapeutic and habilitation services;
  • Gigi’s Playhouse in McHenry offers activities, resources, educational programs and support for individuals with Down syndrome and their families; and
  • The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM).

Charitable Support

Woodstock Harley-Davidson hosts many of these charitable events. “The company goes far beyond what might be expected in supporting local charities,” Boselyn said.

It schedules rides from April through October for a range of needs for everything from Ride For The Cure (a national MS event) to local causes such as Have a Little Fayth and Emily Ride.

The company generally provides food and some kind of entertainment when the riders return from a charity ride as well as the opportunity for other not-for-profits to ask for donations. For example, Leslie SanFilippo from Stardust Sanctuary, an equine rescue facility had a booth to sell chances on a handmade quilt (pictured), and Nancy Niemoth from Helping Our Heroes was looking for donations to help veterans, active military personnel, police and firemen who are in financial distress due to housing expenses.

Motorcyclists are also very active in welcoming military personnel returning from harm’s way. For example, preceding the MS ride, 200 riders surprised Sergeant James Ferguson who was expecting to join the fundraising ride after returning home from his second deployment in Afghanistan. “It was amazing!” he said. “I was expecting to join up with ten other riders that morning. When we pulled in and saw the flag line put up by the Rolling Thunder and the Patriot Guard Riders, it was overwhelming. It was wonderful to have that kind of support here in Illinois.”

Last year, all of McHenry County had the opportunity to witness the pageantry offered by a group of riders when Delta Company of the Illinois National Guard returned after nine months in Afghanistan.

“We were all looking forward to seeing our families in Woodstock and certainly didn’t expect the Patriot Guard Riders to be escorted all the way from the Wisconsin state line into Woodstock,” Sergeant Richard Davis said. “It was a humbling experience to be honored by them.”

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