Volunteer motorcyclists will travel across the state May 16-19 for the 11th annual Pony Express, an effort to raise awareness about children’s mental health.

The bikers, called Eagle Riders, are members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. They will kick off their ride in Scottsbluff on May 16.

The ride will finish in a ceremony at the Nebraska State Capitol at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 19.

The ride focuses on the message that mental health is fundamental to overall health. The ride is organized with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The ride spans nearly 900 miles. Motorcyclists will reenact the mail-delivery service of the storied Pony Express, picking up letters about children’s mental health written by youth, their families and other supporters, and delivering them to lawmakers at the State Capitol,

“The health, safety and well-being of Nebraska children is a priority across the agency and we appreciate the Eagle Riders’ commitment to children’s mental health,” said Dr. Courtney Phillips, the chief executive officer of the Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS spokeswoman Julie Naughton said on May 17, the riders stop in Sidney to pick up children’s letters, then head to North Platte, Gothenburg and Kearney.

On May 18, they will stop in Grand Island, York, Columbus and Norfolk.

The final day, May 19, the riders will visit Boys Town’s main campus in Omaha and wrap up the tour on the steps of the Capitol, where the letters will be delivered to state leaders.

“Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental illness are widespread, and we must change that conversation,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at DHHS. “We thank the Eagle Riders for 11 years of important conversations about children’s mental health across our great state.”

Some of the letters delivered last year have been read before the children’s system of care meetings. The letters give voice to children and reinforce the importance of mental health services, Naughton said.

 

The full schedule:

Wednesday, May 16       

• 6:30 p.m. Scottsbluff: Cirrus House, 1802 17th Ave. In addition to the Eagle Riders appearance, Cirrus House will hold a carnival and block party with events for children and young adults, food and more.

 

Thursday, May 17

• 9 a.m. Sidney: Sidney Community Center/Kids Korner, 627 Toledo St.

• 1:30 p.m. North Platte: The Connection Homeless Shelter, 414 E. 6th St.

• 3:05 p.m. Gothenburg: Lafayette Park Pavilion, 314 27th Street. In addition to the Eagle Riders, the public event will include a live band, free food and family activities.

• 4:45 p.m. Kearney: Buffalo County Extension Building, Families Care and Region 3 Behavioral Services event, 1400 E. 34th St., featuring fun activities, nachos and desserts.

 

Friday, May 18

• 9:40 a.m. Grand Island: BoysTown Shelter, 3230 West Wildwood Drive

• 12:05 p.m. York: York Aerie, 605 North Lincoln Ave.

• 1:45 p.m. Columbus: Columbus Aerie, 3205 12th St.

• 4:05 p.m. Norfolk: Ta Ha Zouka Park, public event with Parent to Parent.

 

Saturday, May 19

• 10 a.m. Omaha: Boys Town Main Campus, West Dodge Road.

• 1:10 p.m. Lincoln: Motorcycle parade from the Lincoln Aerie to the Nebraska State Capitol Building.

• 1:30 p.m. Arrive at Nebraska State Capitol Building to deliver letters.

 

DHHS provides many resources for families with behavioral health needs, including the Nebraska Family Helpline, a free, confidential resource for parents with questions or concerns about their child’s behavior.

The Helpline phone number is 1-888-866-8660.