LaGRANGE — A group of leather-clad bikers gathered Saturday morning on Gordon Road – their machines lined up along the road as they prepared to ride, engines growling and sunlight gleaming off chrome mufflers and polished gas tanks.
It may sound like a scene from “Sons of Anarchy,” but the bikers’ intent is far from destructive – rather, they’re raising funds to help children and new mothers.
Bikers for Babies was an event conceived when longtime First Choice Women’s Center board member Nan Jackson approached Guardians Riding Club member Eric Womble, whom she knew from church, and asked if the club would consider an event to raise money for the center. Womble agreed and – though some other projects delayed the event for about a year – it culminated in Saturday’s ride, which drew a few dozen riders participating at $25 apiece.
Mark Davenport and City Light Church providing lunch at $6 per person with all of the cost going to donations. Jackson Heating and Air donated a YETI cooler that was raffled off during the event, raising more proceeds.
Jackson called the event a “great success” and hopes the ride will become an annual event.
Guardians Riding Club started in 2013 with the mission statement “Supporting our community, one ride at a time.” It’s purpose is to organize and participate in fundraising events that benefit community people, organizations and causes, Womble said.
“We’ve grown to 22 (members) strong,” he told the Daily News on Saturday in the group’s clubhouse, a converted barn at 23 Gordon Road. “We also have family and kids who come up here. Family is what we’re all about.”
Club members have participated in community events like handing out candy to children at the annual Halloween downtown LaGrange trick or treating and have been called to lead funerals. They also organized an annual drive for Toys for Tots in memory of one member’s late father, who was a big supporter of children’s initiatives, said club member Joseph Doss.
“Last year, we spent 11,000 dollars … out of our own pockets” to organize events and donate to various causes, Doss said.
The Guardians club also has teamed with other riding clubs in the community to collaboratively coordinate events to ensure they don’t schedule on top of each other and pledge to support each other’s rides with at least two members from each club coming out to participate at events, said Troy Evans, president of Guardians Riding Club.
“What we’re trying to do is change the image of bikers,” Evans said, noting that the more than 20 clubs in the area all support community causes. “The largest donations of money that come to help small towns come from bike clubs, and it’s time to help Troup County. … That’s basically what we do.”
“This is a great marriage,” said First Choice board member Pam Rogers, noting the convergence of the center and riding club for the event. “… Our hearts melt to see these burly men joyfully support our mission.”
Fellow board member Michele Bedingfield added that the two groups have something in common.
“In a lot of ways, motorcycle clubs get a bad reputation, like pregnancy centers, too,” she said, referring to the view that pregnancy centers focus on abortion. “So it’s a great connection” of two misunderstood organizations.
Women’s First Choice, 300 Harwell Ave., is a nonprofit pregnancy center that offers free, confidential pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and information for prospective parents. The center is funded entirely by donations from individuals, businesses and organizations along with events like Saturday’s ride. It receives no government funds, board members said.
Debbie Hughes, nurse manager at First Choice, said that staff presents all information to expectant women with the goal of best allowing them to make a decision without judgment. Although Rogers said board members don’t personally agree with abortion, they allow pregnant women they counsel to make the determination of how to proceed. The center also is implementing a post-abortion recovery ministry to counsel women who have opted for the procedure.
“We’ve found that women who’ve had abortions have problems later on in their lives,” Rogers said. “It’s an instant fix, but one that comes back to them later in life and affects them in different ways. … We’re about love, not condemnation.”
Board members said the center has seen potential mothers ranging in ages from 13 to 49 of all races, religious backgrounds and socio-economic status throughout the community. Unlike what some may believe, it’s not relegated to poor, unwed teen mothers, Jackson said.
She reiterated that to the group of bikers as they prepared to take off Saturday. She became emotional as she thanked them for choosing to support the women’s center.
“I think the word ‘awesome’ only belongs to God or God-like things,” Jackson told riders as they prepared to take off, her voice breaking as she teared up. “… What you’re doing for us is awesome.”
First Choice Women’s Center may be reached at 706-884-3833.
Matthew Strother is editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.