Motorcycle ride raises more than $20,000for homestead

More than 20 years ago, a group of community members came together and organized a motorcycle ride to benefit the residents at Herrington Homestead, a residential support place in Nunez. At the time, the homestead—part of the Georgia Sheriffs Youth Homes, Inc. as a Georgia Sheriffs Association mission—housed only boys and because the first ride was organized near Christmas 1996, those responsible for bringing the event to fruition selected a catchy, fitting moniker: “Toys for Boys.”

In the years since, the Herrington Homestead has opened its doors to girls as well and accommodates up to 18 residents altogether from surrounding counties. Thus, the biggest fundraiser event for the institution has been rebranded to reflect that change. Although still held near Christmas every year, the ride is now formally called Toys for Boys (and Girls).

Just as the name reflects change, the story of this year’s event compared to those held in years past paint an obvious picture of what likemindedness, selflessness, and generosity really looks like and how the giving has changed as well.

Scott and Sylvia Cochran of Swainsboro are two of the individuals who have been involved since the very beginning. In 1996, they had a vision and looked to former Emanuel County longtime sheriff, the late J. Tyson Stephens, for help in executing what has become a substantial benefit over the last 22 years.

The first ride in 1996 raised approximately $2,400 with just a handful of riders showing up from the local area. This year, in the 22nd Annual Toys for Boys (and Girls) Ride, the total amount of money raised literally multiplied 10 times over and the number of riders increased as well with more than 150 folks showing up from all over the state.

Numbers aside, the Cochrans say this event was perhaps their best yet. One reason for that? When the late Sheriff Stephens passed in August of this year, event organizers knew right away the 2021 ride would memorialize him, and the plan was executed this past Saturday, December 11, as motorcyclists piled into Biker Nation on West Moring Street ahead of the ride to Herrington Homestead.

“This benefit was close to Tyson’s heart, and we felt it would only be right to pay tribute to the man who helped get this event off the ground in the early years and helped keep it going and growing every year after that,” Sylvia said. “Looking back, we are extremely proud of how the Toys for Boys (and Girls) Ride has changed. It has only gotten better and better every year. This year, we raised $24,000 through registration fees, donations, and our silent auction. I know he would be proud, just like he was every year in the past.”

Additionally, this year’s event was one to remember in other ways. Current Emanuel County Sheriff Jeff Brewer led the parade with the Cochrans and famous former Atlanta Brave third baseman Terry Pendleton riding tandem directly behind. The event, he said, touched his heart.

“It’s always nice when you can get riders to show up by the hundreds, and we really couldn’t do this without our sponsors. The whole reason for the ride is to benefit the children at the homestead,” Sylvia continued. “These monies are given to the homestead to use for the residents throughout the year as needed, whatever those necessities may be as they come up... But it’s really great when we can get a special guest like Terry to not just support but come down as well and see what it’s all about. It goes to show this is really bigger than all of us; it’s about the kids. He saw that by the end of the day. He said from now on, he’s going to make this an annual event.”

Pendleton brought with him two of the headliner items for the silent auction: baseballs autographed by current Braves who were part of the 2021 World Series championship team, second baseman Ozzie Albies and third baseman Austin Riley.

Only one more item was more highly sought during bidding: an autographed basketball from basketball star and longtime ride supporter Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neil. This piece of sports memorabilia alone kept hands flying upward, running up to a final cost of $1,000.

In addition to the ride and the auction, the fundraiser always features a home-cooked meal by the board of directors, chaired by Ken Tomlinson of Swainsboro. He has been involved with the Herrington Homestead since its beginning back in 1996 as well as the benefit since its start more than two decades ago.

“It was a good one. The food was good, the weather was great,” said Tomlinson. “We had a really great crowd. We raised a good bit of money for the homestead. We’re all pleased with that... And it was fun; it felt like the good ol’ days, having everybody together like that.”

Another man has been instrumental in the Toys for Boys (and Girls) Ride. Mike Leathers serves as the development officer for Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes Inc., and he offers a similar sentiment when it comes to the ride that takes place in Swainsboro every year.

“I think it was a fantastic weekend. The weather was perfect, we had a huge crowd, and raised a ton of money for the children,” Leathers commented. “Terry Pendleton came and really enjoyed spending time with the kids, so much that he’s going to start coming every year. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

While the efforts of Tomlinson, Leathers, the board of directors, and even special guests cannot be overstated, the Cochrans (and everyone else involved) are quick to admit an undertaking of this magnitude is made possible only by teamwork.

A slew of others are among those on the team: the Georgia State Patrol, Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown and Lt. Bobby Durden of that office, Candler County Sheriff John Miles, Swainsboro Police Department, and the innumerable other law enforcement agencies and their respective representatives who come out annually in support.

Most of all, the Toys for Boys (and Girls) Ride would not be what it is today without the financial commitments of its many sponsors. Daniels Chevrolet, Pineland, Terwilliger’s, Tomlinson Funeral Home, Biker Nation, Queensborough National Bank and Trust, Durden Banking Company, Yeomans & Associates, Farmers Furniture, Law Tigers, and Contractor Wholesale Floors all pledged meaningful dollars this year.

Another local company takes special pride in being able to help. In 2018, Nordson began helping with grant funds. This year, Nordson is expected to add another $10,000 through grant funding to bring the total amount to be donated to the children at Herrington Homestead to a whopping $34,000, making the 2021 event the most fiscally successful one to date. The Cochrans say Edna Wiggins and Ashley Mills have been instrumental in bridging the gap between the ride, Nordson, and those grant monies, and those two women will help file the necessary paperwork sometime between Februrary and March of 2022 bring in the expected $10,000.

“Overall, we are just extremely thankful for everything: the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association for establishing these youth homes. First and foremost, these children aren’t bad; they’re just misfortune the and need somewhere to go, someone to care for them. The Herrington Homestead provides that for them, and so many of these children go on to lead very successful lives because of it.

“We’re also really grateful for the partnership between the law enforcement agencies and the ride, the bikers who come every year and the ride, the corporate sponsors and the ride, and, most of all, the community and the ride. Toys for Boys (and Girls) has steadily grown. We’re extremely proud of that, and we know it will continue to grow in the future with the help of everyone. If you haven’t attended in the past, we encourage you to come out next year. It truly is something to behold, seeing it all come together. The best part is knowing every penny goes to help a child.”

Plans for the 2022 event are already underway. The tentative date is set for December 10, 2022.

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