Phenomenal turnout for BBBS Grand Erie event
By: Yvonne Van De Wiele- Cooper
The phenomenal success of Big Sisters Big Brothers of Grand Erie Bike Night in Paris, Ontario is something no one saw coming. It caught not only the organizers, but local businesses and residents by surprise.
In 2017 BBBS Grand Erie, CEO, Myles Rusak, thought it would be a good idea to hold a barbecue, sell some hot dogs and drinks and invite motorcyclists to drop by the Wincey Mills parking lot to hang out.
He didn’t have to coax.
More than 400 turned out the first night and since then, they’ve averaged between 3 and 4 – thousand participants every other Tuesday night, between April and October.
Rusak, himself a biker, attends a lot of bike nights throughout southern Ontario and says normally, if 100 bikers show up, it’s considered it a good turnout.
The BBBS Grand Erie event in Paris has already surpassed last year’s overall turnout of 16,500. Rusak is at a loss to explain it.
“It’s pretty crazy and I never expected it to be as big as it is,” he said.
Parking spaces at Wincey Mills are quickly claimed on Bike Nights, but there is “a great relationship with the neighbouring LCBO” which lends their lot, while bikes line the streets and the nearby municipal lot.
Participants come from far and wide.
“We have a couple that comes from Sudbury every single Bike Night, they don’t miss it,” says Rusak.
The Sudbury couple stays at the Arlington Hotel and then drives home the next day.
“That’s a five hour drive one way!” he said.
Others have come from Peterborough, Mississauga, Lewiston New York, the GTA and throughout southern Ontario.
“We have become the largest Bike Night series in Ontario and that’s just in one year” says a bewildered Rusak, who stressed he’s never spent a dime on advertising the event.
Word has spread through social media and word of mouth and just “grew organically.”
Could the close proximity to Port Dover, home of Friday the 13th biker rallies, be part of the draw?
Rusak says he believes the location plays a big role with every major highway meeting up near Paris.
And they couldn’t do it without a team of dedicated volunteers.
BBBS volunteers Paul Terry and Marc Hutchison have manned the grill for every Bike Night so far and have just about managed to keep up with demand.
Line-ups to pay for hot dogs and drinks by donation, last about two hours each time.
Rusak says when he started Bike Night, he wanted to hold a community event showcasing who bikers really are.
He’s concerned pop culture and TV shows like “Sons of Anarchy” may have given a negative impression.
“A lot of people think that’s what a biker is now, you put on a leather vest and you’re a bad guy,” he said.
Rusak who rides in a biker club himself, points out he has a beard and tattoos, but he’s the CEO of a children’s agency, that works with at-risk youth to help make their lives better.
He also wanted to showcase Paris and Brant County as a place “to be a bike destination, to come and sleep and play and all those kinds of things.”
Thirdly, he wanted to raise money for his organization and the United Way.
Seven local businesses sponsor the event, which helps pay for a different band each time.
Musical performers have included Silverado, The Hell Bent Rockers, Ginger Saint James, Route Six and various other rockabilly and classic rock acts.
But most of the revenue comes from the barbecue and there is also “Bike Night in Paris “merchandise for sale.
Funds raised have been significant.
Last year they took in about $20-thousand dollars and this year, they’re on course to make $50-thousand dollars, far surpassing what other events, including golf and bowling tournaments, have brought in.
Meantime, there have been visits from hard core club members like Hells Angels, but Rusak says they’ve been well behaved, lining up and “paying for their hot dog and drink just like everyone else.”
He says overall, they’re grateful for the donations that help the BBBS of Grand Erie mentoring and after school programs operate.
“We sort of found the magic formula in Bike Night and we don’t know why it works, but we’re not poking the bear, we’re just letting it happen,” he said.
The BBBS of Grand Erie Bike Nights run every second Tuesday, from April till October from 6 p.m. till 9 p.m. For more info on BBBS of Grand Erie check out; https://granderie.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca/