On the outside, they may look rough and tough with their leather jackets and rumbling motorcycles, but on the inside, the men and women of Bikers Against Child Abuse are as soft as they come. They are advocates and friends to children in need and are a big part in helping these young victims of child abuse face and overcome their fears.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the members of the Santa Cruz County chapter of BACA are doing their part to bring awareness to the issue and help as many abused kids as they can in the process.
“One of my biggest problems with the world today is adults who take advantage of kids— powerless, defenseless kids,” said Scotts Valley resident and BACA’s Santa Cruz Chapter president Mark Kastner. “The stats are staggering. One out of three girls and one out of four boys before they are 18 are abused. And we just kind of shove it aside. We don’t give it the visibility and address it like we ought to in society today.”
The Santa Cruz Chapter of BACA has over a dozen members who hail from all across the county. They all have their own reasons for becoming involved but they all have a common goal—empowering abused children.
“Everybody is here under a united cause and everybody has the same feeling,” said BACA member Terry “Papa-T” Jones. “It really makes you feel that what you are doing is going to make a difference.”
BACA was created in 1995 in Utah by J.P. “Chief” Lilly “with the intent to create a safe environment for abused children.” Since its inception, the organization has grown exponentially into a worldwide organization.
“When [Chief] started this, he thought he was just going to have a local group in Utah doing its thing, then other interest came up and they started formalizing it, and it grew like wildfire,” Kastner said. “When I first came in about six years ago, there were about 40 to 50 chapters, and now there are over 150, and new ones are popping up all the time.”
The members of BACA work with kids between the ages of 4 and 18 and they take their job seriously. Prospective members must ride with the organization for a year before they can become full-fledged members. Live Scans and background checks are run and most members have taken a mandated reporter training, similar to what teachers must undergo, that basically mandates them to report any kind of child abuse they come across. Chapters are even associated with therapists who train members on dealing with kids.
The main goal is to make the child feel safe and a part of something. BACA members are friends and protectors of the child and welcome them into the BACA family. Each child receives their own leather vest with a BACA patch and they are taken on rides with the group. But the members do even more than that. They become a presence in the child’s life while the child is going through a very difficult time, and they even show up to support the child in court if necessary.
“On the first child ride we get as many people as we can to go. We take a blanket, a teddy bear and a vest. We kind of embrace them into the BACA family and make them feel loved and cared for,” Kastner said. “We are not going to guarantee them that we can protect them from anything that comes down the road, but they get this feeling that they are associated with this big powerful group now and it takes away the fear and helps them do what they need to do—get on with their lives, be a little kid, and if they need to go to court or talk to agencies about what happened, it gives them strength and some power to do that as well.”
Frank “LongRider” Calabro, an Aromas resident, has been riding for 50 years and has been involved with several other motorcycle groups in that time. But after reading about BACA, he knew he had to join. Calabro has six children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren of his own, so protecting children is something he has always done, which made BACA a perfect fit.
“Almost all the other clubs are just out to have fun, but BACA actually has an agenda. With this group you are doing something good and that’s really what makes the difference,” Calabro said. “It is very fulfilling.”
For Jones, the work that BACA is doing really hits close to home. Years ago, his 3-year-old nephew was killed by an abusive stepfather and it has never left him. He says working with the kids in BACA and seeing the happiness the group can bring to a hurting child is like an addiction for him.
“I didn’t want what happened to that 3-year old to happen to someone else, or for him to die in vain. So if you can help one kid, it really makes a difference,” Jones said. “It’s become a passion for me. The feeling you get seeing a young kid that is able to go out and play and have a normal time, like a child should, and not be in fear, it gives you a feeling inside you can’t imagine.”
The BACA Creed says, “I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and showed up for all wounded children.” And that is exactly the way local members are living as they help abused children in the area.
“A lot of these kids, they don’t really have anybody to stand up for them in a bigger way. That’s what we do for them,” Kastner said. “The whole thing is to take away their fear, help alleviate that so that they can do what they need to do. It’s good to see them stand on their own two feet.”
BACA will be holding community events in honor of National Child Abuse Awareness Month. On April 21, the organization will co-sponsor the Walk to Stop the Silence in Watsonville. For information on joining the walk or donating, visit www.fsa-cc.org/walk-to-stop-the-silence/.
On April 28, BACA will host a kids’ skating party for kids ages 4-14 from 2-4 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Roller Palladium, 1606 Seabright Ave. For more information, call 831-566-8080.
And on June 9, BACA will host its annual fundraiser and the community is invited to attend. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door and include dinner catered by Armadillo Willy’s and a raffle ticket. There will also be live music by OTR & Michelle Chappel, dancing, and a no host bar. For more information or tickets, call 831-566-8080 or go to http://2ndsantacruzbikerbash.eventbrite.com/.