The coronavirus pandemic may have put the brakes on an annual fundraiser held in memory of Sierah Joughin, but the group behind it is refusing to let her legacy be silenced.
Keep Our Girls Safe (KOGS), a non-profit organization led by Joshuah Kolasinski, determined its Fifth Annual KOGS Motorcycle Ride scheduled for Aug. 2 must be canceled due to COVID-19. Since its inception the fundraiser has each year attracted about 1,000 riders on 600 to 700 bikes. They wend their way from a Harley Davidson dealership in Toledo to the Fulton County Fairgrounds in Wauseon.
The $20 registration fees collected to participate have helped since 2017 to fund free self-defense classes for teenage girls and some women throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Most participants are high school students who are taught basic self-defense moves and safety education by the instructors, Wauseon Assistant Police Chief John Roof and Sylvania Police Officer John Pinkstaff.
Kolasinski said the event usually involves a 10- to 15-mile-long caravan of motorcycles that attracts lots of spectators as it travels from the dealership to Metamora, Lyons, and Morenci, Mich., before reaching the fairgrounds. Along the route the riders received police escorts and pass through intersections blocked off for the ride.
“We do have really big crowds when we go through the towns,” Kolasinski said. “People line the streets. That’s really awesome.”
Registration includes the rider’s choice of either a small motorcycle flag emblazoned with “Remember Sierah” or a face covering sporting the KOGS logo.
About 100 people had already signed for this year’s ride before it was canceled. Kolasinski said he and the other KOGS board members, which include his parents, Nikki and Robert Kolasinski, and Joughin’s mother, Sheila Vaculik, ultimately decided that holding it during the coronavirus pandemic was too risky.
“We were really trying. Now that recently it has gotten a little worse…we just decided that it would be better for the safety of everybody that we didn’t host it,” he said. “We’re kind of bummed out about it. It’s always a great experience to have.”
But as the motorcycle ride fell through, the KOGS board was determined to temporarily replace the fundraiser with a separate one that could be held in spite of COVID-19. Kolasinski said, under the circumstances, a website would be the obvious venue.
So from now until Sept. 2, KOGS will hold a virtual fundraiser at KOGSafe.com. Five banners have been set up in different locations; each banner, with a photo of Joughin and the KOGS logo, will be displayed on the website. For a $20 registration fee, participants can sponsor one of the banners and will receive a commemorative flag or face mask. Each participant can sponsor multiple banners.
On the final day of the fundraiser KOGS will hold five random drawings for the participants. First through fifth prizes will be $1,000, $750, $500, $250, and $100, respectively.
The flags are featured at the Toledo Harley Davidson dealership; Lathrop Park in Berkey, the location where the inaugural motorcycle ride was completed; Metamora Park; Evergreen High School; and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Wauseon.
Kolasinski, who was Joughin’s longtime boyfriend, added, “We encourage people to take a selfie with the flag, then post them online with the hashtag ‘Remembering Ce,’” Joughin’s nickname.
In 2016, Joughin, 20, was abducted during an evening bicycle ride and murdered not far from her Metamora home. Her convicted killer, James Worley of rural Delta, sits on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
John Roof, a KOGS self-defense trainer since 2017, said the classes were suspended after the coronavirus came into prominence after February. He said he feels some frustration over the disruption.
“We get a lot of positive feedback from the classes. Everybody seems to enjoy them,” he said.
The classes are free, financed entirely by KOGS fundraisers.
Over the past three years Roof and Pinkstaff have trained at least 1,000 people. They try to maintain class sizes of 20 but have trained as many as 60 participants at one time. The two-hour class is divided into two parts: the first part includes discussions about awareness, attitude, and self-defense legal issues, while the second part dives into teaching six basic strike and escape methods.
“We’re teaching them to be able to protect themselves, just to be aware,” Roof said. “If they can avoid an attack, that’s even better. We stress avoidance. If you can’t we teach you the actual techniques to defend yourself.”
He said when the cloud of COVID-19 lifts he and Pinkstaff may consider creating classes for smaller children.
KOGS has received feedback from people who say they want to support KOGS but either don’t have a motorcycle or would be concerned about joining a bike run during the pandemic, Kolasinski said. He said the virtual fundraiser is the perfect solution, and could become a separate annual fundraiser if it proves successful.
“We funnel every bit of that money right back into the self-defense classes,” Kolasinski said.
He said the classes were begun because the KOGS board felt that opportunity for young women was lacking. “We’re teaching these girls all these things in high school – how to live their lives – but we don’t teach them how to protect themselves after we push them off into the world,” he said.
Kolasinski said KOGS had about 20 classes scheduled at the time they were suspended. “Hopefully, when this passes, we can get back out there and get back at it,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.