In summer 2020, Mac Dorris could not conduct his charitable event, The Ride for Mental Health, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he and a friend still cycled its usual route in New Paltz, New York.
They weren’t alone. Others participated in the event virtually via the Strava app.
Despite the pandemic, the organizers raised $150,000 for McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, which is dedicated to psychiatric care, research and education.
A year later, and after many COVID-19 restrictions eased, Dorris decided that the nonprofit needed to invest more in PR, so he hired the agency French/West/Vaughan to promote the 2022 ride.
“You had to sort of refresh that enthusiasm and excitement for people to be part of this mission” to end the stigma around mental illness, said Charles Upchurch, FWV senior counselor, who is again promoting this year’s ride, scheduled for June 24 and 25.
Dorris, a retired attorney, founded the ride in 2017 in memory of his son, Eric, who died at age 21 from an accidental drug overdose after suffering from borderline personality disorder and depression.
Eric had received treatment at McLean Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
“The Ride for Mental Health is a lively and heartwarming weekend, and we welcome anyone who wants to join us to help ride away the stigma associated with mental illness and substance-use disorders, whether as a rider or as a volunteer,” Dorris said via email.
Upchurch said his agency has emphasized the message that the ride, which takes place on country roads in New York State’s Hudson Valley, is an enjoyable event.
“Mental health, for people who are reluctant to talk about it, can make them a little uncomfortable,” Upchurch said, adding that the event is a reunion of people who have dealt with mental illness or whose loved ones have.
To promote that idea, the agency gathered testimonials from riders about why they participated. “What they all said was, ‘I go there not just to raise awareness, but I go there to be with people and enjoy myself,’” said Upchurch. FWV also sponsored the event.
Dorris did not conduct much public awareness before working with FWV, Upchurch said, but since then, the agency has arranged interviews on TV, radio and podcasts such as “The Dr. Ward Bond Show” and Radio Woodstock, 100.1 WDST-FM.
The key to its media outreach is sharing the stories of riders and volunteers, he said.
Organizers expect to have more than 500 riders this year.
Upchurch hopes to elevate the ride to the scale of the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike-a-thon that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and attracts thousands of riders.
“Maybe one day, we will have 10,000 riders,” Upchurch said. “[Dorris] is a wonderful, positive soul, and it’s hard not to just throw everything you got into the support for him.”
This article originally appeared on PRWeek US.