A four-day journey to Lincoln: Pony Express Riders stress importance of mental health, suicide prevention

This article is written by Jeff Bahr. It was posted on on May 22, 2021.

Pony Express riders heading across the state picked up letters in Grand Island Friday morning — just like the old days.

The riders saddled up on motorcycles rather than horses. Seven motorcycles rolled into town as part of the 14th annual Pony Express Ride, which calls attention to children's mental health.

The Pony Express riders picked up letters written by two young people who receive assistance from Boys Town in Grand Island. They collected similar missives from other young people around the state and will deliver them today to the Capitol in Lincoln.

Carley Starling, who works at Boys Town in Grand Island, agrees it's important to support mental health funding for young Nebraskans.

The local letters were written by kids who have seen the positive impact that mental health treatment can have, Starling said.

It's important, “especially in rural communities, that we destigmatize mental health and mental health challenges," said Starling, a clinical psychologist who is director of the Boys Town behavioral health clinic in Grand Island.

There are many young people and adults right now who are experiencing mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, ADHD and autism, she said.

Many times people don't seek treatment until the problems are “causing severe trouble for them on a daily basis," Starling said.

Boys Town wants to help young people and families before those kids have to be removed from their homes, she said.

“We work really hard to wrap that whole family up and make sure we are helping at every level of their mental health challenges," Starling said.

Young people have struggled through the pandemic “just like everybody else did," she said.

Starling feels Boys Town “did a great job during the pandemic. We moved everything to telehealth and we kept seeing kids. We were doing it virtually, and we were grateful that the state allowed us to do that for Medicaid kids as well as (those with) commercial insurance."

Boys Town is reimbursed for behavioral health treatment for families with Medicaid.

By continuing to see kids and families during the pandemic, Starling believes Boys Town made a real impact on the young people “because it helped keep their symptoms lower."

The Pony Express riders have visited the Boys Town facility on Highway 281 before, when it was the Boys Town shelter. It's now a behavioral health clinic.

“We are really excited that come August we will have seven doctoral-level providers in our communities," Starling said.

Holly Stevens of Orleans, who leads the ride, said there are families across the state who are continually needing services. The riders advocate for funding, and pick up letters so that the voices of the young people can be heard.

“From a parent's standpoint, you can't be a fair-weather parent at any point in time. So we aren't going to be fair-weather advocates that come in and go," said Stevens, who handles promotion and is the site coordinator for the ride.

The journey, which began Wednesday in Scottsbluff, has 13 consistent riders. As the group approaches Lincoln, the total might swell to 50 or 75, said Stevens, who has been involved in the Pony Express Ride for seven of its 14 years.

Some of the riders were members of Eagle Riders, Legion Riders, Holy Ghost Riders and Bikers Against Child Abuse.

The Pony Express escort vehicle was driven by Irene Brayton of Shelton.

​Photo credit: Jeff Bahr​