Rotterdam-based Operation At Ease revs up for Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Ride along the Mohawk



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CLIFTON PARK — Joni Bonilla created the Rotterdam-based nonprofit Operation At Ease to address an unfulfilled need in the Capital Region.

“The organization was founded because there were not any resources for veterans seeking service dogs in the Capital District,” Bonilla said. “We provide dogs from shelters to veterans and first responders, and then we give them a free training program.”

Bonilla added that to properly serve veterans and first responders, Operation At Ease must make the public aware of the issues they face. That’s why the organization will host its fifth annual Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) Awareness Ride on Saturday.

“Post-traumatic stress isn’t something you can see,” Bonilla said. “What better way to bring attention to it than throwing together a bunch of bikes and cars and making some noise?”

Over 200 riders are expected to cruise for a cause on Saturday. The ride begins at noon, launching from Spitzie’s Harley Davidson of Albany on Central Avenue. The route will follow the Mohawk River, crossing the Rexford Bridge and ending at Wicked Eatery, Pub and Entertainment in Clifton Park.

Ride organizers have planned a full day of fun for participants. Registration (for $20 per rider and $10 per passenger) will take place at Spitzie’s between 10 a.m. and noon. Fresh coffee, pastries and pancakes will be provided by Schenectady’s Flippin’ Fabulous, and DJ Chris Hollister will play music before and during the ride.

When they arrive at Wicked Eatery around 1:30 p.m., bikers and drivers can expect to enjoy lunch, raffles and treats from local vendors. Kona Ice of Clifton Park will offer shaved ice to help riders beat the heat. Whiskey Highway will also perform live music at the event.

The Riser Motorcycle Association, a longtime partner of Operation At Ease, will lead the ride. Over 15 members will be present to help raise funds, direct riders and block highly trafficked roads.

Treasurer Nicole Miller explained that the ride is a way to show support for the many veterans and first responders within the Association’s ranks.

“When they see the number of motorcycles and see over 200 people show up in solidarity, they realize that they can pick up a phone anytime and somebody will be there for them,” Miller said.

Representatives from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and Niskayuna Fire District 2 will also be present to ensure that the ride proceeds smoothly and safely. They will accompany the riders along the route and place roadblocks to prevent regular traffic from interfering.

Chris Nobes of Niskayuna Fire District 2 said that his station collaborates with Operation At Ease frequently.

“If we have a serious call, we can call Joni anytime and she will send a therapy dog to our fire station to take the stress away from our firefighters as much as possible,” Nobes said.

Nobes added that many members of his department are veterans, and all of them benefit from having access to mental health resources and service dogs.

“There’s a need for mental health awareness among first responders, and certainly among veterans as well,” he said. “We feel that it’s a cause worth fighting for, to get the message out to our members that it’s okay to acknowledge mental health issues, and there’s support out there.”

Notably, one of Operation At Ease’s advocacy goals is to strike the label of “disorder” from post-traumatic stress, as it contributes to the stigma surrounding the condition.

“Having a disorder feels so permanent like there’s something wrong with you,” Bonilla said. “Post-traumatic stress is just your brain’s normal, natural and healthy reaction to a traumatic event.”

Those interested in attending the event can pre-register at

Bonilla said that veterans are often used as a political talking point. Lately, she has seen social media users compare the country’s treatment of veterans to its treatment of asylum seekers in places like Rotterdam. She argues that helping veterans should not be a talking point in online discourse, but a tangible plan of action. Operation At Ease provides many local opportunities to help veterans, and Bonilla urges community members to turn their opinions into actions.

“We want people to do more with their voices. Put verbs to your voice and help veterans,” Bonilla said.


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