AP NEWS

Pony Express tour stops in Columbus

May 18, 2019

The Eagle Riders’ Pony Express Ride Across Nebraska made a stop Friday in Columbus, on its way to Lincoln to advocate for increased mental health funding.

The riders are delivering a series of letters from children living in Nebraska asking state lawmakers to provide greater mental health care for children. The Columbus stop was one of five on Friday, with stops also happening in Grand Island, York, Norfolk and Fremont.

“We’re here as a state to advocate for our children (and) for them to live a life that is full of possibilities,” said Holly Stevens, coordinator of the Pony Express Ride. “Our part of that is bringing the awareness for children’s mental health, the services that are needed as well as the services that are provided, that families have voices and children have voices, so we can break the stigma of mental health.”

The rides have been held since 2007, stopping at organizations that assist local children and families in dealing with significant mental health issues. The ride is a reenactment of the Pony Express main delivery service which included stops in Nebraska during the 1860s.

Youth and Families for Christ hosted the transfer of letters to the riders, which will be delivered in Lincoln today as part of a special ceremony. The Pony Express Ride contributes money to the organization’s summer camp, which will take place June 3-6 at Mahoney State Park.

“They’ve actually been, historically, a big supporter of us,” said Jeremiah Penn, executive director of young men’s ministry at YFFC. “When they asked us to make these letters for them, we absolutely, wholeheartedly wanted to help them out. We also believe in increased mental awareness.”

Penn has first-hand knowledge of how teens and young adults deal with mental health issues. He says that his organization provides services that help teens through difficult life situations, while also giving them a place to relax with their peers.

“We want to be able to be that support whenever they need it,” Penn said. “A lot of times, we see that a lot of kids don’t have parents. Mom and Dad are gone (dead); they’ve walked out, left, not there, or they’ve checked out; they’re there, but not really there. We want to continue to let the youth know that they are loved, that they’re valued and they’re important and that they’re worth our time.”

Many of the people that come through YFFC are high school students struggling to find their place in the world. Penn said that watching the problems of these students on a daily basis is deeply hurting.

“It just breaks my heart,” Penn said. “I’m working with youth who at the end of the day, didn’t have the opportunities that I did or the support that I did. I see the need (for increased mental health funding).”

Penn said that increased funding will help YFFC and organizations like it provide greater services to children throughout the state.

“Hopefully, it will help those we serve,” Penn said. “The kids we serve, we see mental health issues in their life. We see it in their families, we see it with their mom and dad and it’s heartbreaking. By seeing an increase in mental health awareness through the state, I’m hoping that those that need it can get the help that they need.”

Rain or shine, the riders will continue on to Lincoln today to deliver the letters to state officials. Stevens and the riders are hoping that politicians and people in Lincoln will heed their words and provide the assistance that is sorely needed.

“We are hoping that people will gain further information about mental health awareness and suicide prevention,” Stevens said. “We are giving people the opportunity to seek the information they need to make informed decisions (about mental health).”

Zach Roth is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zach.roth@lee.net.

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