Working In Concert to Overcome Autism
by Oliver Shokouh
I get questions asked of me all the time such as, “How did you get started? Was it a vision that you had? What motivated you to do this?” If truth be told, there was no grand design, it just grew organically.
In 1976 I started Harley-Davidson of Glendale. The former dealer had just gone out of business, and HD was desperate for dealers. On a shoe string budget, I moved my wife and three kids from Detroit, Michigan, to Glendale to start a motorcycle dealership. We were barely hanging on financially. Owning my own shop was a dream of mine and without really knowing how to make it a success, I was fired-up with nothing but sheer determination going for me.
Getting people’s attention was critical. I needed people to walk in the doors of our dealership. In 1981 I decided to take Harley-Davidson’s lead. They had just become a corporate sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and I hosted a carnival in the back of our dealership to attract customers and have some fun in the process. One of the goals was to help improve the image of motorcyclists by giving back to our community. We held our first Biker’s Carnival that same year and raised $1500, which we donated to the MDA. Initially, the carnival events were a way to market our dealership and its products. However, my focus changed as a result of the joy I felt when helping others. It was a profound feeling that changed the direction of my life. I needed to do more.
In 1984, with a lot of help from a group of friends, the Love Ride was born. Peter Fonda, who was well-known for his role in “Easy Rider,” got involved and created a public service announcement that gained national attention and won an award. Robby Krieger, of the Doors, offered to play a concert at our event. The idea of riding for charity felt great, not just for me but for everyone involved, and our very first Love Ride was a huge success. We had 420 people attend and we rode from Glendale to Calamigos Ranch in the Malibu hills, where we enjoyed an outdoor barbeque, great music and friendship among kindred spirits. Little did I realize that we were creating a tradition that would continue for 28 years!
On our 10th anniversary, Love Ride grossed over one million dollars, and our organization attained a status of being the largest one-day charity motorcycle event in the world. Since 1984 we have donated a net sum of nearly 14 million to children’s charities.
The good times became challenged in 2009, as our U.S. economy slipped into the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Our event was not immune and, for the first time in Love Ride’s history, we were forced to cancel our event. For those who had registered we offered a refund of fees but most declined. So, instead, we held a small, intimate event – much like the old carnival days from the early 1980’s – at our dealership. Peter Fonda, who has supported us all these years, sat in our dealership and signed autographs for hours. Every person in attendance had a chance to meet Peter. The Foundation lost a lot of money that year but we re-tooled and came back in 2010 with a smaller format and with Autism Speaks as our beneficiary.
I’ve been asked, “With all the charities out there, how did you select Autism Speaks?” What moved me, and others on our board to support Autism Speaks, was the fact that we have close friends with autistic children, and hearing this made up our minds: “The most important thing a parent can do for a child is prepare them for the future. What’s going to happen to my child when I’m gone? Who will be able to care for him?” These friends need help with activities of daily living that the rest of us have never had to deal with. Things we take for granted are much more complicated in a home with an autistic child. Support to these families is very important and we recognize two specific areas that need help: one is services to help families cope and the other is supporting research for a cure.
Whether people ride motorcycles or not, they can participate in Love Ride. For those who ride, we depart from our dealership at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 23rd as one large group led by Jay Leno. For those who want to drive, there is ample free parking at Castaic Lake Recreational Park.
We encourage fundraising among our participants, and everything is tracked online. Fundraisers create an online profile where friends, family and co-workers can log on and contribute. These contributions are tax deductible. The top fundraisers are known as “Top Guns,” and they compete with others to win prizes.
If you’re interested in attending, or know someone who loves music, please share our information. We are going to Castaic Lake Recreational Park on October 23rd, where country music artists, Montgomery Gentry, and others will be performing in concert. Jay Leno and Peter Fonda will be there too. Castaic Lake is a beautiful park with lots of grass, shade trees and hills. The stage is situated near the edge of the lake and hay bales are set up for seating. There will be a variety of gourmet food trucks, motorcycle stunt shows, vendor booths and lots of great music all day. Gates open at 10:00 a.m. and parking is free. Tickets for the day-long event are $65 with advanced registration. For more details or to donate, visit www.loveride.org.
And knowing that all this celebration is also making a difference for families affected by autism only increases our enjoyment of helping others.
Oliver Shokouh is the founder of The Love Ride, a motorcycle charity event currently in its 28th year. The Love Ride Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, exists to raise money for those less fortunate. Its primary goal is to support children’s charities.
Check out the radio spot running on Go Country!