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“Pony Express” riders take mental health support letters to state Capitol

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A group of “Pony Express” riders made a pit stop in Cody Park Thursday afternoon on their way across Nebraska.

The group, riding motorcycles instead of horses, arrived around 1:45 p.m., escorted by North Platte Police Investigator Lisa Citta.

There they picked up letters to be delivered to state officials in support of mental health services for families and children.

The riders started in Scottsbluff Wednesday and were collecting letters in several cities along the way. They plan to arrive at the Capitol in Lincoln by 1:30 p.m. Saturday to deliver the letters and celebrate with food, booths and activities for children and families.

The letters will go to Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Interim Director Tony Green and DHHS Chief Operating Officer Larry Kahl.

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Families 1st Partnership, a local nonprofit organization that coordinates a variety of services for families, provided lunch for the group.

“These riders donate all of their time and their money for their gas, their lodging, time off work and everything” said Holly Stevens, the group’s coordinator, “and so when someone is willing to feed us, that helps us be able to do it.” Janssen Motor Group provided a support trailer, which Stevens said was also important and very appreciated.

Families 1st Partnership also collected letters from local people for the riders to take to the Capitol. They have been lending similar support to the group for four years, said Families 1st Executive Director Caroline Sabin.

“I have children of my own that had to advocate for services” that were not readily available in rural areas, Stevens said. That motivated her to organize the first ride about 16 years ago. It brought together her “love of motorcycles, the (original) Pony Express ride and advocacy for children’s mental health as well as mental health in general,” she said. “We are lacking services clear across the state.”

Stevens is an avid motorcyclist herself, the only one in her family.

“I was part of a group called the Eagle Riders, and when this originally started we utilized (them) along with the Family Works (program) and married them up to make this take place,” she said. “ Since then it’s just become a ride of its own and we’ve been able to step away from any organized groups and make it 100% whoever wants to be involved.”

Stevens organized the rides for the first three years before stepping away for several years. About six years ago, “they came back to me and asked if I would please come back,” and so she did.

The group is making a difference in raising awareness and getting the attention of state officials.

“The mental health of our children should be considered just as important as their physical health,” Green said in a DHHS press release. “It is a great honor to participate in this event and witness the power of our strong communities as they come together to raise awareness and support our kids, the future of Nebraska.”

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