Two years ago our friends Liz and Eric Wilson sent letters requesting donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Their request was part of St. Jude Rides, founded in 2007 by Brad Wiebler and Mike McCoy. The group is comprised of volunteers raising funds through letter writing, and then embarking on a three-day motorcycle ride from Peoria to Memphis, Tennessee.
Long time supporters of St. Jude, my husband and I gladly contributed. The following year, a similar letter arrived. I’ve always wanted to visit the hospital so I asked about going even though I’m not a motorcyclist. I was told I could ride in one of the motor coaches accompanying the group. We mailed our donation, and I circled September 2010 on the calendar.
Some ten months later and somewhat apprehensive about fundraising, I planned my list of potential donors, wrote what I hoped was a heartfelt letter, and in August of 2010 mailed them off with high aspirations. I was excited about every returned envelope. On September 16th we left for Memphis, and returned on the 18th with stories, memories, and enormous gratitude for the blessings of good health. The children undergoing treatment at St. Jude will forever be in my prayers and thoughts.
It’s impossible to experience such a visit and not come home a changed person. Our awareness and compassion have been heightened. Children with catastrophic illnesses need our support. It’s a privilege to help tell the story of one man’s promise to God which resulted in saved lives and changed people.
Group meetings began May 6th, though coordinating myriad details necessary for a safe, productive event commenced much earlier. At the July meeting, we were given instructions, encouragement, and stationery for letter writing. Every rider commits to raise a minimum of $1,000 and every passenger, $500. Participants pay their expenses including fuel, food, hotel stays in Dyersburg and Memphis, and incidentals. All monies raised go to St. Jude.
The group began in 2007 with 50 riders and 18 passengers raising $90,000. Participants and proceeds more than doubled in 2008. This year 131 riders and 85 passengers raised over $310,000 (money continues to come in) for a total of over $800,000 in four years. (Operation costs for St. Jude are nearly 1.5 million dollars a day.)
“The Ride is becoming more well known,” says Brad Wiebler, sales manager at Walters Brothers Harley Davidson on Maxwell Road. “Future plans are to expand the event with satellite rides out of different cities. There’s strength in numbers. The money doesn’t come in huge amounts.” Some donations are large, but the majority are modest amounts. Added together, each makes a difference.
We left from Walters Brothers on Thursday at 7:10 a.m. after a prayer and touching send off. The number of people who came to wish us well and who lined streets and overpasses to honk and wave was heartwarming. We were escorted by police offers from Peoria to Memphis. It was a tremendous feeling of community.
Motorcycle gas tanks are small so frequent fueling stops were needed. Volunteers left Peoria in the wee small hours of the morning so they could have lunch ready at our noon stop.
We spent Thursday night in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and Friday morning, amid a sea of white shirts and cycles, departed at 8:00 a.m. We arrived at the hospital before noon. (On a personal note, I had the opportunity to ride the last 40 miles on the back of a Harley Davison trike. Thanks to Gretchen for providing the ride, and Liz for providing the encouragement. It was an awesome ride, once I got past my apprehension.) Seeing the hospital as we rode into the city was very touching. It’s truly a building where miracles are many, and heartaches still happen.
We ate lunch outside under an enormous tent, posed for a group picture, and were warmly welcomed in the auditorium by the CEO and Director of St. Jude, Doctor William E. Evans.
Dr. Evans cites statistics and percentages in his talk and says the most important part of St. Jude is “to provide unsurpassed care for our patients. We are a culture of collaboration, creativity, compassion and cure. There are no doctors’ dining rooms at St. Jude. We’re all in this together.” When the hospital opened in 1962, the cure rate for leukemia was less than 4%. It’s now 90%. The current average cure rate for childhood cancers is 75%. (Some cancers have a higher cure rate than others.) Dr. Evans emphasized the importance of research. “Our goal is to put ourselves out of the childhood cancer business.”
After the talk, we toured the hospital and surrounding areas. The bright colors and attractiveness almost cause one to forget the enormity of the work that goes on there. Seeing a child in a stroller who’s lost her hair or a teen walking around with an IV pole is a continual reminder of the hospital’s mission.
The remainder of the day was free time, and Saturday’s departure time was up to individual choice. A group on motorcycles, along with the van and two motor coaches left at 8:00 a.m.
At that first meeting in May, Sheriff Mike McCoy told us, “Our job is to try and raise as much money as we can so one day we don’t have to do this.” The Ride is a wonderfully executed event of people coming together to give generously of their time and resources to help others. It’s a diverse group of people including medical professionals, retirees, executives, business owners, homemakers, educators, law enforcement officials, laborers, and families of current and former St. Jude patients. “It’s a team effort,” Mike emphasized.
Eric Wilson commented, “We love the kids of St. Jude. The ride is about raising funds and awareness for St. Jude so they can do the great work to keep Danny Thomas’ dream alive ‘That no child shall die in the dawn of life.’”