The annual Ride For Hope event had record numbers of participants and funds raised on Saturday as it benefited the local Smiles From Heaven and The Golden Heart Project charities.
Courtesy | Lazy Boy Tattoos
The Laredo Heat SC was proud to sponsor the sixth annual Ride For Hope childhood cancer awareness motorcycle ride held Saturday, Sept. 10 to raise funds for the Smiles From Heaven and The Golden Heart Project charities.
“It is awesome the way all the bikers and motorcycle clubs come together,” Smiles From Heaven founder Ray Sanchez said. “They all come together to help our local kids. There is the stereotype of bikers being mean, but they have a soft spot in their heart for kids with cancer. Year after year, this event gets bigger.”
Ride For Hope was created six years ago by Hector and Samantha Hernandez who own Lazy Boy Tattoos.
“We just wanted to help and do something. I had just bought my first motorcycle. We did a few rides with other people and realized the community was great,” Hector Hernandez said. “The Golden Heart Project was doing an event and we went to go help by doing face paint. I met some of the kids, and I got introduced to Ray and his daughter Bella, one of the angels who has passed away. We started talking more and decided to try to do something, and I had just got the bike, so we decided to do a motorcycle ride.”
After getting 12 bikers together and collecting toys for donations at the first event, the group nearly tripled the next year with 30 bikers. It has continued to grow since and reached a new high with 136 riders on Saturday. With an entry cost of $25 per bike, the event raised a record $3,400 to be split evenly between the two charities.
“We put in our money to make everything and spend countless hours organizing everything, but we aren’t going to take anything from it. That is our donation,” Hernandez said. “I can go a few days without sleep. Whatever it takes to get this done and bring in more funds for them, I’ll do it. They are doing great things and getting a lot of support. They are doing it for the right reasons, and people see that. We’ve seen that since Day 1.”
Along with expanding the riders and the funds raised, the event also expanded the route for the ride. It started at Jett Bowl North, worked around McPherson Road, went to Mile 18 on I-35 and came back to finish at Laredo Harley Davidson. The group was escorted by the Webb County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office.
“We wanted to go down McPherson to get more exposure for each organization,” Hernandez said. “People get curious and see what these organizations do for the kids in town. It doesn’t hit home until it gets close to home. Both organizations provide a lot of support for local families, so of course we are going to help them out.”
Hector and Samantha Hernandez always begin planning Ride For Hope four months before the event. They coordinate with charities and numerous sponsors, and they put countless hours into crafting items and promotional materials for the event.
“My wife is the backbone of everything,” Hector Sanchez said. “She is great at keeping everything organized and knowing who we need to talk to. This wouldn’t be possible without her.”
The crafting includes bandanas for the riders and flags representing local children. There are yellow flags for children fighting cancer and white flags for children who have passed away.
“Sadly, every year the number of flags go up,” Hernandez said. “I wish we didn’t have to have 80 flags. I wish it could only be the 20 flags of the kids who have already lost their battle. You hate to see the numbers go up.”
The Golden Heart Project is a local nonprofit organization that aims to create friendships between children and provide fun events and memories amid their cancer battles. Janee Nunez Villarreal decided to create the charity in 2015 after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer three years earlier and meeting several children with cancer.
The Golden Heart Project is continuing its fundraising on Sunday with the Going Gold For You 4x4 Childhood Cancer Awareness Run. It features a meet and greet at 3:30 p.m. at Picate Mucho, and the run begins at 4:30 p.m. The donation to participate is $20. For more information, visit facebook.com/GHPLaredo.
“Janee does her events to help lift the kids’ spirits,” Hernandez said. “The kids are happy and get to forget for that moment what they are going through. They need that too. They have to be able to remember they are still kids.”
Sanchez and his family founded Smiles From Heaven in 2019 after losing their daughter Bella to cancer. She was diagnosed at seven months old with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Following many ups and downs, several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, Bella died less than two years later. Amid the horrific tragedy, Sanchez chose to channel the struggles into something positive to help families in similar situations.
“As a father with pain and depression, I had the choice to fall further into depression or make something good out of it. The cause is growing, and sadly the organization is growing with more kids,” Sanchez said. “Spreading awareness brings hope to us as families. I lost my daughter, but this brings hope that one day we’ll get a childhood cancer facility here. That’s our main goal. We aren’t going to stop until we get it. It’s in the works. We’ve been pushing for so many years.”
“He covers fuel costs, meals, lodging, maintenance on vehicles and everything else for families that travel,” Hernandez said. “When he was going through it, he didn’t ever know if his girl was going to make it to the next appointment. His car was always breaking down and he barely had money for gas. The basic stuff you take for granted is hard for families. One parent has to stay with the kid and the other has to work. That’s what caused him to start the charity.”
Just one day after the birth of his daughter last week, Sanchez stayed up late helping Hector and Samantha Hernandez prepare the night before Ride For Hope. On top of loading up donations for the raffle, they also continued crafting items for the event making over 100 drink koozies to give away.
“Hector and Sam put in a lot of work. We were at their house until almost 3 a.m. the night before getting stuff ready. It’s all for a great cause,” Sanchez said. “You see the children’s smiles. It enables us to keep ensuring that no child misses their life-saving treatments out of town in San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Houston. When we started Smiles From Heaven, I made a commitment that nobody would miss their appointments, and year after year we’ve been able to provide that.”
Smiles From Heaven will be right back at it to raise more funds during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month hosting the first Hope Glows 5K Fun Walk on Saturday at Independence Hills Regional Park. The event will feature music and other fun activities, and the donation to participate is $20 for adults and $10 for children 17 and under. The funds raised will go toward helping families pay for all costs related to traveling for treatment while the organization continues to advocate for a local treatment center as a long-term solution. Visit facebook.com/SmilesFromHeaven for more information.
“I’m a combat veteran. I went to Iraq and lost a couple friends over there, but I tell everybody, the heaviest casket is the smallest casket. I saw my daughter get buried, and it pierced my heart,” Sanchez said. “What fills my heart is helping these children. Sadly, Laredo doesn’t have a facility. Smiles From Heaven fills in that gap. It’s a big commitment we took on, but year-round we are doing fundraisers, and the community comes out and supports us.”
Visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on social media to stay up to date on the latest news. Any youth players interested in joining the academy can visit laredoheatscyouth.com for more information.
Hector and Samantha Hernandez