The second day of Earn-A-Bike Co-op’s Christmas program held at Cassiano Homes opened with something a tad miraculous. Dozens of children between the ages of 7 and 14 started building bikes with the commitment to come back the following day with their helmets to continue earning their bike by the end of the weekend. These kids were promised a first ride – probably around the neighborhood.
“But who knows, we might go to Boerne,” joked Earn-A-Bike founder Cristian Sandoval.
The bikes were locked away overnight, and their future owners went home for the evening. On Sunday, all showed up as planned, with their bikes, helmets, and a parent or guardian along.
Civil engineer Rodolfo “Rudy” Rivera was volunteering for the second day, managing the eager procession of riders before they could set off on their pre-ordained safety ride. Some of them were on a bike for the first time.
“I was one of these kids,” Rivera said. “So I want to give back.”
Rivera shared stories of his own hardscrabble past growing up in Laredo and having to figure out how to become who he wanted to be, despite living in a neighborhood where few excelled.
The children navigated through a miniature obstacle course and were given a nutritious lunch after a lesson about healthy eating and the benefits of exercise. Finally, groups of five or six riders apiece, each led by an adult volunteer, cruised around the neighborhood and back to the starting point as family members sat on the curb and took in the scene. Wrecks were few and far between, no disputes of any note broke out, and mercifully, the ice cream trucks that cruised the street incessantly on Saturday decided to take the day off. (Note: It’s going to be hard to really address childhood obesity when unhealthy eating literally drives down your street, ringing its bell and looking for you.)
Personalized helmets, decorated by their new owners, set each rider apart. Artistic flourishes abounded, from beautiful multi-colored flowers to simple sayings like, “Sup, bro." The colorful helmets and beautiful new bikes, contributed at below cost by the owners of Bike World, were a dynamic contrast to the drab surroundings at Cassiano Homes, where trash overflowed out of bins and a pregnant dog nosed through the overflow on the sidewalk.
New riders received more safety lessons in the form of quizzes from Cristian Sandoval, who managed to sustain a fair amount of the kids’ attention, considering how eager they were to take off on their new transportation. All the bikes proved roadworthy — no small feat — and riders were treated to more safety material and brand-new bike locks at day’s end, along with a lesson on just where to attach them on a bike for maximum protection.
The transformation on faces was noticeable from yesterday to today. Shy 7-year old Aaliyah, who was so excited about her basket yesterday, was “all about the riding” today, exuding confidence as she pedaled past the assembled family members when it was time for her group to go. So did all the rest of the riders, though there were some humorous moments and awkward collisions.
“It’s the joy in their faces,” said one proud mother.
Aaliyah’s mother, Rebecca, posed with three of her four children who earned a bike this weekend. The fourth and oldest rethought his decision not to participate, but he'll have to wait until the next traveling Earn-A-Bike program. Organizers are thinking January.
A few of the adults were heard muttering that it might be time to get back on a bike themselves, now that they were reminded of how much fun it could be. And as the day closed, new riders rode home with the rewards of their weekend’s work and a newfound sense of independence as the volunteers gathered for a group picture and thanked each for caring enough to participate in making so many riders’ dreams come true.
“This exceeded my expectations,” said Jireh House pantry director Raquel Rivera, whose dream of a bike in every Cassiano Homes household brought Cristian Sandoval’s Earn-A-Bike workshop to the housing project. “Everyone showed up the second day, and the parents participated,” she said with pride. “Kids need to earn the bikes, and the parents need to engage as well. The children feel accomplished."
As the weekend closes on so much goodness and promise, there’s a strong chance that not all the costs of the workshop were actually met. The option to contribute still stands at the link here. You can also send a check made out to Earn-A-Bike to the Rivard Report at our Rand Building offices, 110 East Houston St., Suite 600, San Antonio, TX, 78205.
*Featured/top image: Children of the Cassiano Homes housing project prepare for their first ride on bikes from the Earn-A-Bike Christmas program. Photo by Lily Casura.