For veterans, first responders and others suffering from post-traumatic stress, healing takes time — and plenty of resources. One nonprofit that’s making it just a little bit easier is Motorcycle Missions.
The organization fulfills its mission by bringing together veterans and first responders to explore their passion for building and riding motorcycles alongside others experiencing PTSD or symptoms of depression. The aim is to create ties among motorcycle enthusiasts who once served their nation and communities and miss the togetherness they experienced during their years of service, says founder Krystal Hess. Many return home to face emotional hardships on their own. Motorcycle Missions steps in to allow them to rebuild their own bonds while rebuilding motorcycles, she says. “When they come home and are separated from the people that have supported them in some of the hardest days of their lives, a lot of the guys lose their way in that process,” says Hess, who founded the Austin-based motorcycle nonprofit in 2015. “Working on motorcycles gives them something meaningful to work toward — a new mission with purpose.”
Since 2019, State Farm has supported the nonprofit, making it easier to bring together those in need, says Sam Fisher, marketing analyst at State Farm who works with Motorcycle Missions. “It’s very therapeutic to talk to somebody who can relate to your experience,” he says.
Three years ago, State Farm started working with Motorcycle Missions to renovate a red Harley Davidson motorcycle. The work was done by veterans and first responders who refer to themselves as builders. “It’s all about working side-by-side throughout the day – and this kind of comradery is something we at State Farm support,” he says.
Each motorcycle starts off as a frame with wheels, which is often donated to the nonprofit. Throughout the process, participants learn to do everything from powder-coating, reassembling frames and replacing parts to refurbish the bike. The build out takes about six months, allowing teams of six to ten people experiencing PTSD to heal through the common goals and constant companionship. “In the process, they are building friendships and regaining the brotherhood they had when they were serving,” Hess says. Teams have gathered throughout the United States in such places as Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix and Temecula, California.
For those who participate, the motorcycle customizing process can feel like taking a new path. Most teams meet once or twice a week during the course of the project. The goal-oriented activity can give veterans a sense of purpose. Add that to a motorcycle’s cool image and the sense of accomplishment upon completion, and many people walk away with a smile. “You have this synergy, and they understand what you are going through,” says Fisher. “It’s more of a tangible relationship — they understand what you’ve been through and what you’ve seen.”
Once participants end their motorcycle project, they are included in alumni events, including racing events, riding clinics, welding classes and more. Many still attend motorcycle rallies and spend time together, says Hess of the 300-plus alumni who have participated in the building process and continue to benefit from what she calls “motorcycle therapy.”
There’s also a continuing sense of pride, because many of the motorcycles built by participants continue to garner accolades. The motorcycle built with the support of State Farm, for instance, has made an appearance at some of the country’s most popular bike rallies, including in Sturgis, South Dakota; Ormond Beach, Florida; and Ocean City, Maryland, in hopes of drawing more attention to the nonprofit and bringing together those in need. Another Motorcycle Missions project won first place at the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Championship, just one of over a dozen awards they’ve received for their builds.
For Hess, it’s not only about completing a finished product that’s fun to ride, it’s about the relationships that participants have managed to build along the way. “Many of them come back to tell me ‘This is exactly what I needed,’” she says.
State Farm is passionate about supporting veterans in many ways — from sponsoring veteran service dogs for Canine Companions for Independence to supporting adaptive rock climbing programs developed by Paradox Sports. Find out all the ways State Farm is making a difference in the lives of veterans and how you can help a military family in need.