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Elio Smythe loves his 2016 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle, but even more he has a heart for kids.
Both passions come together beautifully for him as a member of the Waco chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse. BACA is an international organization that was founded by a licensed clinical social worker who saw the benefits that a close-knit brotherhood like a group of bikers could give to traumatized children.
While not a founding member, Smythe joined the Waco chapter 11 years ago shortly after its formation. He has a Warrior Patch for 10 years of service.
The organization’s motto is “no child should live in fear,” he said.
Smythe, who retired last year after 36 years with Southwestern Bell and then AT&T after the merger, said volunteering has always been part of his nature. Growing up in an Air Force family and moving every couple of years, he was always a “people person,” ready to make friends in his new surroundings.
He is an elder at Trinity Lutheran Church in the Badger Ranch subdivision and through church and work he was involved in many volunteer projects. He has received several Presidential Volunteer Service Awards over the years.
As a HOG (Harley Owners Group) member, he helped Waco Center for Youth in a project to gather gifts and throw a Christmas party at the boys cottage. Through that he was approached about joining BACA.
The organization has an thorough screening process before members are assigned a child. They undergo an extensive background check, including fingerprinting by the FBI, and have to be involved at least a year with the chapter in various activities, he said.
Child Protective Services will recommend children who were physically or emotionally abused who might need the support of BACA, he said. The family also is interviewed to make sure it’s a good fit.
Smythe said the children they help have come from well-off families to the very poor.
Those children are “adopted” by their biker family with a ceremony that includes giving them a blanket, a teddy bear and their “cut,” or vest, and encouraging them to call the bikers brothers and sisters.
They are urged to call when they need support, and the bikers often attend court proceedings to help ease their anxiety in that situation.
Smythe said he’s continually amazed how these small children warm up to the bikers, even those who can be a little scary-looking. When family members tell them how much it’s helped is particularly touching, he said.
“To see a piece of their childhood that was stolen being brought back is what it’s about,” he said.