You may have seen him on the “big stage” at many a meetings industry event, in his past role as chair of MPI or as part of a panel of experts on myriad subjects. Befitting his 35-year career in sales, marketing and executive positions serving the meetings industry in top organizations, Visit Orlando President & CEO George Aguel certainly doesn’t lack for exposure.
But while the Florida native cuts an impressive industry profile, many don’t know of the truly heartwarming, and maybe a bit brave, good works he does to help the most vulnerable in our society—children.
For the last seven years, Aguel has combined his love of motorcycling with a drive for giving back via his work with Bikers Against Child Abuse, or BACA, which helps victims of child abuse navigate the often terrifying process presented by the legal system.
“I’ve had a passion for motorcycles for a long time,” Aguel said. “I own a couple of Harleys. That’s my own personal form of recreation I give myself—the freedom of riding on the road with the wind in your face. It’s fun, but I also found by accident an organization called Bikers Against Child Abuse.”
Formed in 1997, BACA’s mission is to empower abused children that have to confront their tormentors in court, which is a horrifying ordeal for kids who have experienced physical and sexual abuse.
“The organization, when it began, recognized that children love motorcycles—they all do,” Aguel said. “But how can they find the courage to deal with the legal process, to testify against perpetrators?”
Welcoming the kids into the BACA family seems to be the best tactic, it turns out.
“The BACA family shows up at their home with a lot of motorcycles—we call it an Adoption Ceremony—and brings them into our motorcycle organization with a vest and a patch, gives them a road name and assigns members to be in touch with them every week,” Aguel explained. “We’ll be in touch with them for depositions if they have fear, and bikers will show up at their home if they feel insecure, and ultimately until they have to go to court to testify.”
Because of the nature of the legal system, BACA is sometimes one of the only allies the child has when going through the frequently traumatizing court process.
“The perpetrator’s friends or family could be in court, but many times family and friends can’t,” Aguel pointed out. “But they will see the bikers there, and then they can feel more secure testifying, and hopefully it results in a conviction. It’s a very unique mission and it has really made a difference in the lives of thousands of children, so my passion for motorcycles and fighting child abuse came together. I put a lot of my weekend time into doing this.”
Since joining the all-volunteer organization about seven years ago, Aguel has seen what these acts of kindness and protection can mean in the lives of children who have suffered sometimes unfathomable levels of abuse.
“From the time we meet them, they can be in terrific fear,” he said. “In many cases, they can be scared to talk to anybody. We find them going from that to being gregarious, doing well at school, and we never stop being there to say hello, even after their case is closed. The relationship never goes away.”