Djole Hinic, ’13, has a holiday tradition. He dresses up in a Santa suit on Christmas Day to ride his motorcycle through the streets of Belgrade, Serbia, his hometown, to raise money for children with special needs.

He decided to bring part of the tradition to Richmond this year.

He discussed the idea with Tanja Miranovic,’08, also from Serbia, and fellow student Shana Taylor. Together they decided to launch the First Annual Thanksgiving Motorcycle Ride for Autism to benefit the Dominion School for Autism. The idea was not for a class assignment but simply to serve the community.

“We wanted to bring the tradition here and see how it turned out,” says Hinic, who is majoring in leadership studies and is passionate about being a community leader. “We decided to do it on Thanksgiving Day instead of Christmas because of the weather.”

By all counts, it was a success. “Not only did the event raise about $2,600 for the school, it helped to increase awareness about autism, the school and its services,” says Meredith Eads, clinical director for the main school.

The money will be used to help fund scholarships and put toward the purchase of a new vehicle to transport students around town for community-based instruction.  

Taylor, a double major in leadership studies and business administration, approached the school about a month in advance. 

“I was a little worried at first that the prosed deadline was too soon, but I was inspired by the dedication of Shana, Tanja and Djole to pursue this project,” says Kate Gibson, an instructor at the school.

Hinic raised money for marketing costs, Taylor handled registration and public relations for the event and Miranovic spread the word in the biker community. “NBC 12 even mentioned that it was happening that morning,” Taylor says.

The campus community also pitched in to help the students raise money to get the word out. “The Office of Common Ground, Richmond College dean’s office, Westhampton College dean’s office, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Vice President of Student Development Steve Bisese and the Office of the Chaplaincy were among the groups that donated,” says Hinic.

About 40 riders participated. The event started in the parking lot of the Martin’s near campus and ended at the Dominion School on Grace Street, where faculty and several students were waiting with a banner and breakfast.

“The best part of the event for me was when we arrived at the Dominion School and saw the banner the students made for us,” says Miranovic, who majored in international studies and Spanish and played basketball for the University. It was great to see how supportive and excited people were, which means a lot because it gave us enthusiasm to make it even better next year.”

*Photo credit: Skibo Adams