Mary Helland hopes that disadvantaged adolescent girls will learn to be strong, smart and bold, and learn they can overcome obstacles in their personal lives — all simply by wrenching on a motorcycle.
Helland is the board president of Youth & Family Services in Rapid City, which is working with local motorcycle groups on a program where over the next five months 20 to 40 girls will customize a motorcycle donated by Black Hills Harley-Davidson. The program begins today, though girls won't start working on the bike until the end of the month.
The hands-on project — called Helping with Horsepower Bike Rebuild — has been used in other states across the country and is a different way of learning.
"By making those transformations, modifications, they'll see a different bike, a new bike. It's the same thing they can do in their own life," Helland said. "Small transformations, maybe modifications in their behavior, maybe how they deal with problems, will help them become more successful."
In October, the motorcycle will be raffled. Helland hopes to raise $100,000 to continue that program and others that help Black Hills girls.
The girls, ages 10-17, will meet once a week after school at the Hot Rod Institute to work on the bike. Each girl will first write an essay on what they think the bike should be named, then they'll take a marketing class to help decide what it should like.
Each girl will draw a design, and they will all vote on their favorite plan. When they figure out what parts they need, Black Hills Harley will ask parts dealers to donate the parts for the project.
Though the girls may want hot pink detailing or rhinestones on the bike, those may not be the most marketable characteristics. Learning how to market the bike will be an important lesson.
"How do we make this appeal to the masses? Because we have a lot of raffle tickets we want to sell," Helland said. Each raffle ticket will cost $20, and Helland wants to sell 5,000 tickets.
The bike, donated from Black Hills Harley's rental fleet, is a 2012 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail with no obvious blemishes. The bikes typically retail starting at about $17,600, according to the Harley-Davidson website.
It's a platform bike, which means it is easy to modify.
"They'll remove the seat, the bags, the windshield, probably the lighting, the wheels and replace all that with custom after-market parts or genuine Harley-Davidson accessories," said Terry Rymer, general manager of Black Hills Harley. "You can just transform it into a whole new look."