Area bikers hope to expand cause in new year

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 27, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 27, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, Phil Bridges and Faran Hearyman, with Terry and Carla Bridges, are members of Bikers 4 Foster Kids, which has been raising money and gathering donated items for Searcy-area foster kids for the past two years. In the upcoming year, the group hopes to expand the organization to include nonbikers as well.

When Phil Bridges first started riding motorcycles, he never imagined that he’d one day be riding with a stack of baby gates strapped to his bike.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Bridges said. “It’s all for the kids.”

Bridges serves as co-chair of Bikers 4 Foster Kids, a Judsonia-based group that raises money and gathers donations for food, toys and basic necessities needed in foster homes across White County. The nonprofit group currently has around 40 regular members, and Bridges said everything the club raises goes directly to help foster children.

“We don’t provide for foster families as far as fixing houses and cars,” Bridges said. “Kids come and go, but that stuff stays. We’re strictly for the children.”

The club, which was founded in April 2010, tries to do at least three or four fundraisers a year, including the annual Foster Friends Festival. The festival, held in September, drew a crowd of around 2,000 and raised more than $6,000 in its first year, Bridges said.

Carla Billings and her husband, Terry, were drawn to the work Bikers 4 Foster Kids was doing the minute they heard about the program.

“We felt like God was calling us to come together to help,” Billings said. “In just White County alone, there are 80 to 100 foster children in need and less than 35 homes willing to take them in.”

Billings said that in addition to providing material goods, the members of the club constantly work to spread awareness of the needs for more foster families in the area.

“As much as money is important, laying it on someone’s heart to consider opening their homes or using the power of prayer to find more good families for these children is just as important,” Billings said.

Faran Hearyman, co-chair of the club, along with Bridges, has been helping organize the club’s giving efforts. Over Thanksgiving, the club reached out to area foster families to see if anyone would be interested in having a meal donated. Nine families ended up with a meal that included both turkey and ham, dozens of sides, bread, soft drinks and the fixings for spaghetti if someone in the house wasn’t a fan of the other options.

“They were all expecting a little basket, and they got an abundance,” Hearyman said. “Even if these families only have a small number of kids, the less money they have to spend, the better.”

Bridges said the group works closely with area organizations such as White County’s Foster Parents Association and the Foster Care Boutique in Searcy. Both organizations often call Bikers 4 Foster Kids when they’re running low on necessities. Two members of the club have loaded gift cards to make purchases if an emergency comes up in the middle of the night with a foster home, Bridges said.

Though the club does donate toys and bikes near the holidays, the big need is for basic necessities such as coats, socks and underwear, Bridges said.

“The immediate need is diapers, diapers, diapers, and did I mention diapers?” Bridges said. “We’re willing to purchase everything and anything the kids need.”

Hearyman first learned about the needs of foster parents when a friend began taking in foster children.

“I had no idea that there were that many kids and that they could come in the middle of the night and be gone the next day,” Hearyman said.

Although Bikers 4 Foster Kids was founded by a group of motorcycle riders, it’s more a service organization than a traditional motorcycle club, Bridges said. The group hasn’t held any organized rides yet, and many of the members don’t even consider themselves bikers.

Hearyman said many people hear the word “biker” and think of someone who is covered in tattoos and parties too hard. They think of drug-dealing motorcycle clubs and violence.

“People in the biking community talk about them as ‘the 1 percent,’” Hearyman said. “Maybe 1 percent of bikers are in those circles, but the media plays that up, and people think that anyone who looks like that must be part of that world.”

When it comes to children, Hearyman said, bikers have a big soft spot. Many of the charity events that motorcycle clubs host surround children and veterans.

“I’ve always said if you need something done, … call a biker group,” Hearyman said. “They’re faster than anyone to serve.”

In 2013, Hearyman hopes to see Bikers 4 Foster Kids expand to include anyone interested in serving the foster-children community, even if they don’t ride motorcycles.

When Billings and her husband attend Bikers 4 Foster Kids fundraisers, they often bring members of their family. Her proudest moments have come from seeing her 4-year-old granddaughter learn to give back.

“Seeing her understand as we pack things in bags that this is going to a little girl or little boy that needs it has been incredibly special to me,” Billings said. “She understands that she’s blessed and she has a family, and at such a young age, she’s learning to pay it forward and be a servant.”

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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