By MEGAN SCHMIDT
Holland Township, MI —
The next time you spot a band of motorcyclists on the road, it doesn’t necessarily mean trouble is rolling into town.
“Eight out of 10 times you see that, it’s (charity) runs,” said Jack Sytma, one of about 70 who rode in Saturday’s Ride for Runaways, an annual event that raises money for homeless youth.
“When you see a bunch of bikers doing a run, some people think it’s something negative,” said Sytma, of Holland. “They don’t realize it’s for a good cause.”
Clad in black leather, many of Saturday’s bikers were members of the Redemption Riders, a Christian-based motorcycle ministry.
Bikers gathered in a circle for a prayer before mounting their motorcycles around 9:30 a.m. After taking off from Central Wesleyan Church on West 40th Street, the group’s route took them as far as Gun Lake.
The 100-mile ride is long but enjoyable, said Wanda Frens of Zeeland.
“When you’re riding three or four hours, you can get a bit of a butt burn sometimes,” she said, laughing.
Near Gun Lake, bikers refueled before returning to VictoryPoint Church, 11530 Ransom St., to have lunch together.
VictoryPoint is adjacent to the site where Barnabas Ministries will build Ottawa County’s first youth homeless shelter, using money raised at this year’s ride.
The project includes a 12-person shelter on the 24-acre lot at 112th and Quincy Street in Holland Township. Later, the project will include another building with office space and a gymnasium. The goal is to break ground in 2011.
Rain clouds were looming Saturday morning, but biker Paul Brittain said he wasn’t going to miss the chance to help Barnabas Ministries with the shelter project.
“There’s probably a greater need for this than people realize,” said Brittain, of Grand Haven. “It’s hard enough for an adult to fend for themselves, but it’s even harder for a teen.”
In 2009, 115 Ottawa County teens surveyed reported they’d been homeless at some point in the past year, according to the county’s 2009 Youth Assessment Survey.
For those adolescents, there are few housing options. Teens younger than the age of 18 are ineligible for adult shelters if they are unaccompanied by an adult. As for youth shelters, the nearest ones are in Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
This year’s ride had the highest number of pre-registered bikers in its nine years, LoriJo Schepers, executive director for Barnabas Ministries, said.