New program gears up to pair kids with bikes

Initiative restores, donates bicycles to Portage County DJFS children

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published:

Danielle Brickwood recalls the excitement of finding a brand-new bicycle next to her Christmas tree as a youth one holiday morning.

Brickwood said she knows other children and families may not have an opportunity for such an experience. So after learning about the Bikes for Kids initiative in Portage County, she was eager for a chance to help extend that same feeling of joy to others.

"Supporting kids like this is a win-win for everybody," said Brickwood, owner of Aunt Mary Ann Donuts and Cafe in Kent. "Doing this is just a no-brainer."

Bikes for Kids is a new program launching in Portage County this month that partners citizens together with the county, local businesses and other groups under the ultimate purpose of providing bicycles to children served by the Portage County Department of Job and Family Services.

Through Bikes for Kids, individuals from anywhere can give used bikes to Portage Cyclery in Ravenna where they'll be refurbished and donated to area kids along with a free helmet.

A launch event will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 27 at Portage Cyclery, 2645 S.R. 59, where used bikes will be collected for the program that will continue indefinitely. The event will feature food and refreshments from area sponsors including Aunt Mary Ann Donuts, PepsiCo and Domino's in addition to a DJ, live band and a scalable rock wall set up by the U.S. Army.

Scott Lazzara, Portage County DJFS family intervention supervisor, said children in the agency's custody are just like all others -- each Christmas, if they're not asking Santa for iPods, they're hoping for bikes.

And just like many budgeting parents, the DJFS, which currently has about 125 kids in custody and serves numerous others at varying times, can't always give the children everything they ask for.

"The kids always tell us they want a bike, and we just don't have the funds to buy kids new bikes," Lazzara said. "That happens quite a bit, and then the kids are let down because they don't get a bike."

Peter Mahoney, a special coordinator at Kent State University's Center for Student Involvement, helped unite people and groups to bring the initiative to fruition at a fervent pace -- just under a month.

Securing a partnership with the local bike shop was a key component, but Mahoney said the business was on board before he could even finish pitching the idea to Portage Cyclery Co-owner Eric Whittington.

"These are children we're talking about who may not have what the average child has, per se," Mahoney said. "If you can give them a little bit of assistance, a little bit of a boost, just to help them know there are people out there who care about them, then why not?

Whittington noted how the exercise itself is healthy and proven to help battle depression.

Lazzara said the bikes are significant to the kids because each one symbolizes ownership of something special they might otherwise never have.

And Tammy Devine, Portage County DJFS administrator of children services, said those items combined equate to better overall self-esteem.

"If they get into biking, it opens up an experience for them they may have never gotten," she said. "It also helps them know there's people out there who care about them. It's a great thing for them both physically and emotionally."

Mahoney said he envisions the program continuing for years to come, adding he hopes Bikes for Kids will encourage other counties throughout Northeast Ohio to embrace a similar initiative.

"It's all about bringing a little bit of happiness to the kids," he said.

Besides the July 27 event, anyone interested in learning more about the program or donating a bike for restoration should contact Whittington at Portage Cyclery at 330-839-8429. The shop is also accepting cash donations, which will help pay for the kids' helmets.

A Bikes for Kids booth will also be setup in downtown Kent during Saturday's Heritage Festival.

Nearly a dozen bikes have already been received or committed to donation.

"We just want to take the chance to thank people in advance," Mahoney said, "because we know how they're going to respond."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC

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