WINCHESTER — Brandan Thomas is taking a cross-country journey to help the homeless residents of the Winchester Rescue Mission.
"I love the guys that live here," said Thomas, executive director of the shelter at 435 N. Cameron St., "and I want people to get to know them and their stories."
To share his message with as many people as possible, Thomas came up with a 12-day Rescue Ride, "a crazy idea I had for a while that started to take shape in March."
Thomas will leave Winchester on Sept. 27 and ride a motorcycle all the way to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to visit homeless shelters and post video updates about his journey.
"The goal is to raise awareness and get people to understand more about what the guys and gals living at the Rescue Mission deal with when it comes to homelessness," he said.
The Rescue Ride will be the second public awareness event staged by Thomas. The first, Conversations from a Bench, was held in October and featured Thomas and a variety of guests discussing homelessness and its underlying causes, including addiction and mental health issues, during a 24-hour event that was streamed live on social media from a bench in front of the mission.
As he contemplated a follow-up for this year, "I thought about taking our city on a journey to other rescue missions to see what's being done elsewhere so we can dream about what's possible here in Winchester," Thomas said.
During the Rescue Ride, Thomas will be making stops at homeless shelters and sharing live streams and videos of the conversations he has with people along the way. He plans on spending the night at shelters in cities including Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark.; Wichita, Kan.; Denver; Las Vegas; and Los Angeles.
As an added bonus, he's taking along the bench from last year and will invite guests to sit with him each day for video updates.
Along with raising awareness, the Rescue Ride will be raising money for the Winchester Rescue Mission. Thomas plans on requesting financial support from the people who watch his live streams, and up to $25,000 in donations will be matched dollar for dollar by a grant that was made by a couple that asked to remain anonymous.
"Our goal is to raise $50,000 over the course of the trip," he said.
Thomas said the rescue missions he'll be visiting on the Rescue Ride are reaching out to their local media to cover the event.
"Hopefully we'll get donations for those rescue missions, too," he said.
Thomas is seeking corporate support to cover the cost of meals and other trip expenses. He has already received $500 for gas and free use of a Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited motorcycle from Grove's Winchester Harley-Davidson at 140 Independence Drive.
Thomas won't be making the cross-country trip alone. He said at least two other people will join him, one with a video camera and another hauling a trailer for the motorcycles. His wife, Kasie, and their three children will follow him to Arkansas, where she and the kids will spend a few days visiting family.
Thomas' wife and children will then fly out for the end of the Rescue Ride in Los Angeles, where they will all catch a plane home. The motorcycles will be driven back to Winchester by the friend with the trailer.
On Sept. 27, the day he leaves Winchester, Thomas wants the community to help send him off.
"We're going to throw a big party here at the mission," he said, and local motorcycle riders are welcome to escort him out of town.
Thomas said traditional fundraisers are boring, so he's always looking for unique ways to raise money and awareness for the Winchester Rescue Mission.
"I knew the Rescue Ride was a crazy idea," he said, "but it's turning into something more incredible than I could have imagined."
To learn more about the Winchester Rescue Mission and Thomas' Rescue Ride, visit facebook.com/winchesterrescuemission.