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Linda Mah
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Earn a Bike, Learn a Lesson

Open Roads' Earn-A-Bike program comes to El Sol

Fifth graders at El Sol Elementary School recently earned free bicycles through Open Roads, the community program that uses the lure of a free bike to teach children about exercise, social skills, and bike safety.

Eight students completed the Earn-A-Bike program, which was run through the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo afterschool program at El Sol, said Open Roads Executive Director Erin Denay. The CIS coordinator at the school is Brionne Fonville.

Students gain hands on mechanical skills coupled with social skills, Denay said. The goal is to help them be more successful as they navigate their daily lives.

The program starts with bikes, which are all donated by community members. Students are matched with bikes based on their size and the colors they like. The bikes are assembled but require some repair.

kp“It was probably one of the funnest programs I’ve been in,” said Jose Trejo. “It’s kind of different from all the programs I’ve been in. There are not many programs where you can build a bike and fix it on your own.”

Jose is now the owner of a red Mongoose, with “all different types of gears.” He’s already had it out for a few test rides on warm days. “I’m looking forward to riding it in the summer.”

Participants learn everything from how to fix bike brakes to how to patch flat tires to how to replace a bike chain.

“We talk about bike tools like wrenches and screwdrivers and how beneficial they are in different ways, especially when we work on our bikes,” Denay said. “Ten we talk about giving them social tools, resources they can have in their personal tool boxes, like self-control, learning how to express themselves and asking for help. We talk about some really great subjects.

“My favorite day was listening to them talk about their fears and how they can conquer their fears to achieve their goals.”

Fonville said, “The kids had an incredible experience. We’ve had students participate in the past and it really had a lasting impression on them. It was engaging for all the students and brought up some amazing conversations and some revelations about what their goals are and confronting their fears and what they want to do.”

On the last day, the students took home their newly rebuilt bikes, along with helmets, locks and T-shirts.

Open Roads is working with three Kalamazoo Public Schools buildings this year. They’ve completed workshops at Hillside and El Sol, and are now working with Edison.

The program also offers free Earn-A-Bike workshops at its shop at 1523 Riverview Drive. It is open to students 10-15 years old. Applications can be found at www. Open Roads also offers community rides and neighborhood events. Students can also apply to serve on the group’s youth advisory board.
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