Bicycle race funds to help mentor program

Published 9:02 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

The Mississippi Gran Prix bicycle race, held in Brookhaven everyyear, brings contestants from all over, and this year they’re usingthe dollars to meet local needs.

Mississippi Gran Prix co-founder and cyclist Frank Moak earlierthis week asked for city leaders’ permission to use downtownstreets for the criterium race that kicks off the three-day eventin April. He told them that one thing, however, would be a littledifferent.

“One thing is changing. We have looked for benefactors for theproceeds of the race, and this year we’ve chosen a mentor/menteeprogram, because Big Brothers Big Sisters is no longer working thisarea,” he told the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen. “There’s a groupdoing that here, and we’re going to try to fund them thisyear.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

When Big Brothers Big Sisters pulled out of the Lincoln Countyarea, it left a hole that community leaders felt was imperative tofill again. As such, the Mentees to Mentors program was born.

But even then, a locally funded program doesn’t see nearly thefunds that a nationally funded program does. That was the reasonthe Mississippi Gran Prix organizers decided to step in, racepromoter Richard Barker said.

“We wanted to do something local, we’re trying to keep our dollarshere, and support a really good cause,” he said. “It came up to methat they’re getting started, and they need all the help they canget. When Big Brothers Big Sisters pulled out, it left avoid.”

Barker said in the past, proceeds from the race went to Blair E.Batson Hospital for Children.

“Blair E. Batson was a big name and there are people from the areathat get treated there, so they’re somewhat local on a biggerscale, but they’ve got everyone under the sun raising money forthem,” Barker said. “We’re trying to start something here to usethis as a starting point for really encouraging people to keeptheir money local.”

Barker said with all the teams that are drummed up to walk forvarious cancer society causes, or diabetes or the heartassociation, a lot of money is leaving Lincoln County that isprimarily going to research.

“Lance Armstrong is a big fundraiser for cancer, he can handlethat. Let’s keep that money here,” Barker said. “These walks andteams and organizations that get together, the money sent out ofhere is incredible. It’s a good cause, but we need to establishactually local stuff – there are people in town that need cancertreatment.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters was discontinued in Lincoln County lastsummer after financial restraints caused it to close all but fourof its Mississippi offices. Maxine Jones, who served as the BBBSAssistant Director for Programs for Mississippi/Program Manager forthe Southern Region, has spearheaded the effort to establish theMentees to Mentors program.

“We’re starting all over again, utilizing myself and some boardmembers to get things going, and eventually we’re going to have afull staff back started again,” she said. “But having the programjust zapped away was devastating. We were serving around 200children, and this is going to make it possible to start servingthese kids again.”

The organization just finalized its 501(c)(3) last Friday, so theyare officially up and running. Jones said they should start servingthe children of Lincoln County at the beginning of the next schoolyear. She said the help from the Mississippi Gran Prix is not onlya gift, but a blessing.

“I was elated, that’s one of the things that’s integral to a newprogram is securing the funding,” she said. “It’s a godsend. I’m soexcited they have decided to make Mentees to Mentors the agencythat they want to give the proceeds to.”

And the race, which is a three-day event that takes place on Fridaywithin the city limits, Saturday on a specified route through thecounty, and Sunday at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, alsobenefits other local entities.

“We’re one of the largest amateur races in the country, and we tryto support local churches – if we have an event most of venues arelocated at churches,” he said. “We also utilize the volunteer firedepartments and support them with money as well.”

In addition, he said, the Gran Prix brings in between 180-250bicyclists and their families each year.

“We’re looking forward to another great year,” Moak said.