Riding for mental health awareness

Photo courtesy of Stacey Bateman

Boulder Roll contributes to making mental health care available to all

PINEDALE – Boulder resident Neville Burt “eats and breathes” motorcycles.

Mile upon mile of open road in Wyoming beckons – endless ribbons of asphalt with little traffic and extraordinary scenery. The speed and thrill of motorcycle culture pulls a person in and creates a sense of camaraderie, the opportunity to connect with “an amazing group of people,” said Burt.

Underneath the hard-core, tough exterior, bikers are still human, and struggle with mental health. Death by suicide is “prevalent” among motorcyclists, Burt said.

Following the loss of a close friend to suicide, Burt, along with his wife Trish and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Janell James, decided to break the silence that can stifle life-saving conversations around mental health, particularly in rural communities.

“We wanted to change the stigma of reaching out,” said Burt. “We don’t want seeking help to be perceived as weak.”

Thus the Boulder Roll Poker Run Ride for Suicide Awareness was born. Now in its seventh year, the nonprofit group is committed to raising awareness about suicide and continues to expand, although the growth is “organic” in order to retain its “soulful” nature, said Burt.

The group hosts the annual Boulder Roll Poker Run in early June. While the event is a fundraiser, the primary purpose is connecting and creating a space where anyone can discuss mental health in a caring and inclusive environment.

“We had several epiphanies this year,” said Burt. “Our basic tenet is awareness and suicide prevention more than raising money. We’re in it for the hugs, crying and laughter – creating that community. We’re not in it for the money.”

Burt went on to describe the Boulder Roll as an “awareness event” that “also collects money.

“Even if we raised zero dollars, we would still do the event,” he added.

In 2022, the Boulder Roll achieved its goal of “creating an environment where people can talk openly,” Burt said.

The group also happened to raise much more than zero dollars and contributed a significant sum to the Sublette Community Mental Health Fund, administered by Revs. Melinda Bobo and Randy Belton through St. Andrew’s in the Pines and St. Hubert’s Episcopal churches.

The Sublette Community Mental Health Fund is a partnership between the Episcopal Church, the Women’s Advocacy Group and Boulder Roll. All the funds raised by the groups go directly to help people struggling with mental health issues in Sublette County pay for counseling and related care.

If those gritty, fearless, tough motorcyclists out cruising the asphalt can be open about mental health, than anyone can feel empowered to seek help.

“At the end of the day, it was a bunch of dirty bikers who started the Boulder Roll,” said Burt.

Changing culture one boot at a time

In small towns across Wyoming, tradition can be a powerful force, especially the concept of independence where “toughness” is gauged by the ability to take on problems alone.

“We want to build community where people can depend on each other with a skill set to get past the concept of ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps,'” Burt said.

During the 2022 Boulder Roll Poker Run, riders participated in a “stands down” ritual. At certain stops along the route, motorcyclists put their stands down, pulled out their phones and checked in with a friend or family member.

This year’s theme was “Angels ride with us,” designed by a group member who lost a loved one to suicide. The group also set aside time for people to share stories related to mental health and suicide.

Bobo said the opportunity for people to speak at the ride is “really important” in sending the message that discussing mental health is safe and okay.

The Boulder Roll is an inclusive event, not reserved for motorcycles. Anyone can ride along regardless of the type of wheels they bring, said Burt. There is no pressure for participants to donate.

“You as a person is what counts,” Burt said.

Money is raised through poker hands, a raffle and auction featuring handmade items “from the soul” and “made with love,” said Burt.

The group does not go knocking on doors appealing for money. All its fundraising comes down to the generosity of donors during the Boulder Roll Poker Run.

“People want to give in so many ways,” said Burt. “Everyone on the ride is touched by suicide.”

A successful year

The 2022 Boulder Roll Poker Run attracted more participants than past years. The group tallied 134 registrations and 206 poker hands, Burt said. The auction alone raised more money than the entire event in 2021, he added.

“It’s important that people know help is available,” Burt said. “You don’t need to be rich to go about it.”

Money raised by the Boulder Roll the previous year paid for 585 mental health sessions for local youth and family members in need of support, said Belton. The Boulder Roll also helped fund awareness programs, including hosting popular Native American musical artist, comedian and dancer Supaman at schools across the county, Belton added.

Increased donations in 2022 make it possible for the Sublette Community Mental Health Fund to “look at additional programs and different approaches” to mental health awareness, he explained.

“The Boulder Roll is a community event – community helping community,” Belton added.

The Boulder Roll and other partners in the Sublette Community Mental Health Fund make mental-health care available to anyone, said Bobo.

“The Boulder Roll’s work makes the mental health fund work,” she added. “The churches can’t do it by themselves.”

Bobo praised the Boulder Roll’s commitment to awareness and ability to build a grassroots organization.

“They figured out a way to do something, and you can too,” she said. “It doesn’t take a million dollars. You just need heart to do it.”

The Boulder Roll truly comes from the heart.

“There is a whole lot of soul in this group,” Burt said. “The people I meet here are just the best.”

How to get help

Accessing the Sublette Community Mental Health Fund is simple. There is no application. All a person needs to do is make an appointment with a provider. The patient and provider determine if a financial need exists. The provider then reaches out anonymously to the mental health fund.

The process is streamlined and confidential.

Local agencies providing counseling include High Country Behavioral Health, Teton Behavior Therapy and independent therapist Dayle Read-Hudson.

  • If you, or someone you know, is suffering from suicidal thoughts, please call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255.