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Volunteers prepare for the 2011 Ride for Missing Children

By CAROLINE GABLE

ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children is once again bringing their message about awareness and safety to Central New York, but there is more to preparing for the race than physical training.

A day ahead of The Ride For Missing Children, volunteers are doing some heavy lifting.

Before sunrise on Friday morning, riders will be gearing up for a bike ride nearly 100 miles long, but they couldn't do it without help of volunteers already hard at work.

At the Valentino's parking lot in New Hartford, riders were wrapping up their bikes and volunteers were loading them up in a number of large trucks. The trucks will then transport hundreds of bikes to the starting point at the Oneida YMCA.

Each rider raises a minimum of $500 to participate in the ride - money that goes towards the recovery of missing children. Just last year, the money raised could purchase over 1.5 million posters alerting the public to missing children.

Volunteer and rider Mark Coleman got involved through the Eastern Air Defense Team, and he says the issue hits close to home for him as a parent.

"I have kids of my own," Coleman said. "A lot of people involved in the ride have their own children, and where would be be if someone took our kids? It would break your heart. So I've been doing it for about seven years now and it gives me a good feeling to be part of the work."

To date, the ride has helped in the efforts to recovery 4,669 children, but the mission goes on. Participants say being a rider or a volunteer is not about a personal challenge or even about achievement, it is about the mission "to make our children safer…one child at a time."

The many volunteers aren't just busy this week. They prepare for the ride all year long, planning for the event set to unfold in less than 24 hours time.

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