DES MOINES, Iowa - It's a sight you can't miss: over 300 motorcycles, cars - and even a party bus - riding in unison across 95 miles of Iowa back-road beauty. And it's all to fulfill one girl's wish.
"Sydney is with us today," said Chris Schwienebart, Sydney's father. "She's watching over us as we do this in her memory."
On August 29, 2011, the day after Sydney Schwienebart turned 17-years-old, she was killed in a car accident. Her family found some relief throughout their grieving when they discovered her funeral expenses would be covered by a local non-profit called Sing Me to Heaven.
Sing Me to Heaven was co-founded by Diane McIntosh, who lost her grand-daughter, Natalie, in 2010. She says her family could not find any way to get help paying for the funeral costs, and therefore they wanted to create an organization that would help grieving families lay their loved ones to rest without any financial burden. Sydney Schwienebart was Sing Me to Heaven's first donation, and the two families decided to work together in the future.
The Schwienebarts have since started their own non-profit, called "Sydney's Wish". The family says Sydney aspired to become a teacher, and so every year, they offer two scholarships to high school students who share her dream of becoming an educator.
Now in its third year, the "Sydney's Wish Poker Run" is a fundraiser helping both the Sydney's Wish and Sing Me to Heaven charities. The proceeds are split between the organizations - so some goes toward scholarships for high school students, and some goes toward helping local families with funeral expenses.
Chris Schwienebart says the first year was considered a success with around 100 motorcyclists entered in the ride. But this year, he's blown away by seeing over 300 motorcyclists, and a grand total of between 500 and 600 participants.
"It's the kind of thing to make a grown man cry," he said. "There are people here I don't know, but on a day like today, it's all family."
With the wheels rolling out at 11 a.m. Saturday, the caravan of riders traveled from Des Moines to Runnells, then Monroe, then Knoxville, and finally, Indianola. A raffle and silent auction will be held after the ride Saturday afternoon.
Sing Me to Heaven has helped over 50 families in Iowa alone since it started, and Sydney's Wish has raised nearly $35,000 from the three Poker Run events so far, including Saturday's. If you're interested in more information on either charity, or in donating, you can visit the "Sydney's Wish Poker Run" Facebook page here, and Sing Me to Heaven's webpage here.