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BikeFest assists Girls-Boys State attendance

BikeFest has a strong record of making financial contributions to charities, large and small, over the 13 years of its existence, thus fulfilling its original purpose and goals. To date, more than $578,000 has been distributed to a variety of causes.

While much of the money has been designated for organizations such as The Salvation Army, Juvenile Diabetes Fund and Shriner’s Children Hospital, there are also smaller funds available for helping students with scholarships or attending worthy educational functions, such as Boys and Girls State.

Leslie Bernier, one of the BikeFest coordinators, recalls that when her daughter Alex Collins finished her junior year of high school, she was chosen as a delegate to Girls State. Prior to her attendance, she had zero interest in government or politics, her mother said, but all that changed when she returned from her week-long experience. This prompted Bernier to encourage BF to offer financial assistance to the American Legion Auxiliary in 2006 to help other girls attend Girls State.

Auxiliary member Jeannie Whiddon said BikeFest has made approximately $1,000 a year available to the Auxiliary, to help send girls to Girls State. The cost of one girl’s attendance is slightly more than $200. One year they were able to send 13 girls. This past year six were sent from Decatur County, and one of those, delegate Ashley Morgan Rogers, was elected governor.

Whiddon is a strong supporter of Girls State. She said all of her own daughters attended and perhaps learned more about government and the political process in one week than they might have learned all year in a classroom setting.

“When they come back they have learned that they have to vote,”  Whiddon said. “We love BikeFest and are thankful for the help they have given us. The people involved come from so many different walks of life, and do so much good for so many people.”

Probably the biggest living fan for Girls State and the American Legion Auxiliary is Agnes Harrell of Bainbridge, who has been on the Girls State staff since 1975, the year she was auxiliary state president. Her four daughters and two granddaughters all attended and one of the daughters has also been state auxiliary president.

Not to be outdone, the American Legion Post 62 and the Burns Shiner Unit of the American Legion have both been recipients of financial aid from BikeFest, enabling them to help send male students to Boys State.

Legion Post 62 spokesperson Terry Karnes said they have been trying to send at least two boys each year and that they have received an average of $1,000 from BikeFest each year for three or four years. When Karnes was with the fire department he worked as a volunteer at BikeFest several years.

Larry Carroll of the Burns Shiver Post thought they have been receiving BikeFest funding for the last five years, and although they only sent one candidate last year, they have sent approximately 12-15 boys previously.

Both men pointed out that the students must meet certain criteria in order to be nominated. They are then interviewed locally, and the final determination is made at the state level.

Girls and Boys State are both held the same week in June at Georgia Southern University in Gainesville. Students who are rising seniors in high school must have maintained a 3.0 GPA in order to be eligible for nomination. In the case of the girls, Whiddon said first preference is given to members of the Auxiliary.

This is just one example of some of the lesser-known recipients of BikeFest generosity.