Over the past four years, the Kansas City Bikers for Babies® RIDE has been the single biggest March of Dimes charity motorcycle ride in the country! In 2005, over $439,000 was raised. The early numbers for 2006 should keep Kansas City as the leader with contributions totaling over $455,000 and still counting!
What is it that makes the residents of our fair city the top national contributors? Many factors can be attributed, but at the top of the list is Johnny Dare’s compassionate plea to those within his listening market. The host of the top-ranked morning radio program for Kansas City is also the Honorary Chairman of Bikers for Babies®. As a Harley-Davidson enthusiast himself, over the past three years he has helped the generous riding community and dedicated volunteers raise nearly $1.9 million, not including money from this year. His down to earth outlook and sincerity touch people’s hearts so much that devoted listeners would likely jump in front of trains to help out the causes he chooses to support.
Once Johnny gets behind a cause, those responsible for coordinating the volumes of people that he brings to the table are both blessed and cursed. In the case of the Bikers for Babies®, the rider count has been over 4,500 the past three years! That is a lot of chrome and steel! The volunteer committee that pulls this event off year in and year out is fully aware of their role to meet and exceed the expectations of these riders, and in 2004 the lesson was painful.
The ride has been held at Kansas Speedway since 2001. Registration and traffic management volunteers had always worked on the outside of the grandstands. In 2004, however, the committee decided to move registration into the infield so volunteers could experience the event rather than just assist on the roads surrounding the Speedway. What seemed like a nice benefit for the volunteers, ended up being a real challenge for riders and volunteers alike. The weather was ideal and 2,400 non-registered riders arrived on event day between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. to register. This was in addition to 4,200 that had pre-registered! Riders reportedly waited 45 minutes to get into the infield and an unknown number gave up and left. Penny Sharp, who joined the March of Dimes Board of Directors in 1991 and is Co-Chair of the Volunteer Bikers Committee, said this “We really regret the frustration this caused the riders, some of whom may not have returned and learned that we fixed the problem in 2005 by moving event-day registration back outside of the infield.”
Ensuring that these prideful and supportive riders’ experiences are positive and safe ones remains the primary responsibility of the Bikers’ Volunteer Management Committee. I decided this year that rather than ride in the event, I would volunteer. I wanted a better understanding of the efforts that it takes to make an event of this magnitude successful. Since so many people give so much time and effort, it’s important to recognize the various committees within this group and their roles.
Although planning for this event starts as soon as the current ride ends, my participation did not begin until the Volunteer Orientation meeting at Kansas Speedway on August 17. The meeting attended by probably 50 to 60 volunteers, officially opened up with a brief introduction from the mother of the 2006 Ambassador family, Denise Rock. Denise spoke of her first-born son Phillip and his premature birth at 25 weeks. She tearfully shared details of an experience that no parent would ever want to go through. After several days of struggles, Phillip passed. Today, thanks in large part to the advancements and education awareness of the March of Dimes, Phillip’s younger sisters, Leighton and Emerson, who were both born premature, beat the odds and are now happy, healthy little girls. There was clearly a high level of appreciation in Denise’s voice when she spoke of how March of Dimes has helped her family since the loss of Phillip and the birth of her daughters.
Knowing that somewhere between 200 and 300 volunteers would be necessary on the day of the ride and less than 60 present for this meeting, I was concerned about how they could pull this event off. I quickly understood that the Zone Captains, responsible for tasks like registration, food service, entertainment and traffic flow and parking would get their needed resources, thanks to the commitments of Volunteer Coordinators, Carie Johnson and Cycle Connections favorite friend, Don Post.
Don and Carie are compassionate and giving individuals with a big responsibility—recruiting the resources necessary to support five pre-registration events as well as ride day. They accomplish this through a network of contacts that cover a broad span of the Kansas City area, including businesses like Ernst and Young, Farmers Insurance and Foremost, schools including Avila and associations including Bikers Against Child Abuse, Employee Riders Association from Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations and various Harley Owners Group Chapters from the region. Other contributing community groups that enhance the event are the Ararat Shriners Motor Corp, HAM Radio Operators, the Salvation Army and the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department. Don and Carie maintain lists of volunteers and then delegate people wherever the resources are needed.
Steve Yates, RIDE co-chairman, has led the committee since the very first RIDE in 1994. Each year Steve serves as the “Route Master” and travels hundreds of miles to design the route, coordinate with community officials, gas stations and route-stop volunteers.
Traffic Flow and Parking is the primary responsibility of Lyle Brown (interior) and Tom Countryman (exterior). Lyle and Tom show up the day before the RIDE to place traffic routing signs throughout the Speedway grounds. They then make assignments at critical areas to ensure that motorcycles, media, vendors, food service providers, entertainers and many other attendees know which path to take and where to go. They arrive early and stay late, to make sure that all the bases for this role are covered. Without the dedication of Tom, Lyle and their volunteers, the safety of the riders would be in jeopardy.
Carol Neils owns the responsibility for registration. This year, at five pre-registration events, between 20 to 40 volunteers at each site signed up more than 3,200 riders. Each pre-registration offers riders the chance to avoid event-day crowds and provides volunteers the chance to learn registration and sales procedures. On the day of the ride, the rains came again, but that didn’t deter another 1,300 bikers from participating. Ensuring that riders arriving on the day of the event could be rapidly processed is a chief concern, particularly after the events of 2004. The committee certainly does not want to turn any contributing rider away. Carol diligently worked with volunteers to keep the riders moving.
Buffalo Wild Wings provided the food this year. Since this was their first time to support Bikers for Babies®, the March of Dimes staff collectively took the responsibility to ensure that the eight food lanes were staffed to provide warm eats, cold drinks and short lines. Grilled boneless chicken strips were both tasty and plentiful and the volunteers assisting here kept the riders happy.
On the day of the event, shirts, bandanas, commemorative pins and other items are offered for sale as well as live entertainment. Covering sales and their staffing needs was Cindy Day, along with Phil and Freda Schroeder. The live entertainment, although hindered by the on-and-off rains, was coordinated by Wayne Thompson. Another committee volunteer, Jeff Dayton, coordinated the 30+ HAM Radio volunteers who are positioned along the route every year to assist riders and communicate with the event management back at the Speedway. Jeff Heishman led the team working with dealers and vendors who presented their motorcycle-related products and services.
The final group that plays a large role in the event is the staff of Kansas Speedway. In Penny’s words, “They serve as our ‘eyes’ and as the ultimate arbiter if there is a problem. They trust us to make the right decisions before and during the event and help us every step of the way; but, they are not there to do the job of our volunteers. Several of the Speedway's management staff have said they ‘love this event’ because they've learned our core group of volunteers and the March of Dimes staff consistently plan for a safe, fun and successful event by paying attention to details.”
Recognition of all those that support this event would not be complete without mentioning the people of the nearby towns that the 100-mile route passes through. Each year, residents and civil servants of Eudora, Oskaloosa, McLouth, Tonganoxie and others, provide rest stops, fuel and relief for the riding participants. People line the streets, or sit in chairs on their rural lawns to provide assistance or show their appreciation for the riders of this important cause.
After getting to know Penny over the past year and a half, she pours her heart and soul into this event each year so that some day future parents won’t suffer the loss of a child born too soon. The fruits of the many hours of planning and labor by all these volunteers are the children everywhere, who are fortunately part of the world today thanks to your contributions to March of Dimes and this important cause they so purposefully support.