Just before last week’s brutal winter storm, dozens of cyclists gathered outside the Liberty County Courthouse for the Sixth Annual Liberty Freedom Ride to benefit the Liberty ISD Education Foundation.
Held on Saturday, Feb. 13, this year’s Liberty Freedom Ride had some monumental challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and the weather, the latter of which kept away many of the 300 riders who had pre-registered and planned to attend.
“We had 282 early registrants. Because of the weather in Texas, a lot of them couldn’t get here. A lot of them are in West Texas or North Texas. The problem wasn’t traveling here so much as it was traveling home afterward during the storm. I think we lost about half of the participants because of the weather,” said Education Foundation Past President Bruce Wright, an organizer of the event. “Everything that has gone on this year has created a perfect storm. Because of COVID-19 this year, we couldn’t do our traditional fundraisers, so all of the costs of organizing this ride had to come out of the rider fees.”
Canceling the event was never in question, said Wright, adding his thanks to the City of Liberty for allowing the Education Foundation to work within the City’s rules and restrictions for COVID-19.
The Liberty Freedom Ride is one of the biggest annual fundraisers for the Education Foundation. In years past, fundraisers have included dances and galas, which were not possible this year due to the pandemic, and purse raffles.
“The Foundation raises these funds to help kids in classrooms,” Wright said.
Liberty ISD teachers apply for innovative teaching grants with the best projects being awarded funding. The grants go toward instructional materials, games and technology devices that are not typically covered in the school district’s budget. In 2020, grants totaling $9,137 were distributed to 11 teachers at Liberty Elementary, Liberty Middle School and San Jacinto Elementary.
Since its inception in 2007, the Liberty ISD Education Foundation has awarded 79 grants totaling $230,000. In 2020, the Education Foundation reached an important milestone by reaching the $1 million mark for endowments.
Liberty Mayor Carl Pickett, who braved the frigid weather on Feb. 13, welcomed riders just before they embarked on their choice of three rides with the longest distance ride taking them on a circuitous route from Liberty to Rye and back.
Afterward Pickett bragged on the good work performed by the Education Foundation. Pickett serves on the Lee College Foundation, which awards scholarships to deserving students.
“The Liberty ISD Education Foundation is such a good support group for our school district. There are other education foundations in other school districts but I think Liberty’s has a whole lot of enthusiasm and momentum,” Pickett said.
While some Education Foundations award scholarships to students, Liberty ISD Education Foundation’s board strives to impact the greatest number of students through the innovative teaching grants, Wright said.
“Grants typically benefit a larger group of people while scholarships tend to benefit just the individual receiving it. There is room for both of these options, but when our Foundation was started, the goal was to help as many Liberty ISD kids as possible,” he said.
With any big community event, a lot of people were involved behind the scenes to make sure there were no major mishaps. Wright credited Dr. Steve Ellerbe for heading the safety team, which has the task of helping riders with medical or mechanical issues that may arise during the ride. Frank’s Barbecue in Liberty helped by providing barbecue sandwiches for the cyclists at the completion of the ride. Ross Ward with 101st Brewing Group helped organize the donation of craft beers for the cyclists to enjoy during their meal.
“When someone looks at our ride, we want them to remember it as special from other rides,” Wright said.