Bike Program Provides Kids With Wheels, Maintenance Lessons

UA's Cochise County Cooperative Extension is working on a program that provides children from low-income families with donated, refurbished bicycles.
July 2, 2013
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This educational video offers "A Lesson in Bicycle Mechanics," courtesy of Cochise County 4-H and Americorps.

The UA's Cochise County Cooperative Extension is working with Douglas schoolchildren on a program to repair and refurbish donated bicycles, culminating with a July 4 bicycle rodeo and giveaway. 

The program teaches important skills not only in dealing with the bicycles, but in terms of leadership and healthy lifestyles, says Darcy Tessman, the 4-H Youth Development associate agent heading up the program. 

"We did this program many, many years ago in Douglas. Those young people have grown up and graduated and moved on," Tessman says. "But it was such a success in this community, it's something I suggested to this group of young mentors and since they had this emphasis on healthy lifestyles, they were very interested in it."

For the bicycle rodeo, the students will use the bikes they've repaired to be able to teach others about safety and control and then present the bikes to other local youth. 

"Douglas is a low income area so a lot of kids aren't going to be able to purchase a new bike, so by teaching young people how to repair bikes, it gives them a skill they can use for many, many years," she says. "We're also trying to teach young people how to have an entrepreneurial spirit, so instead of waiting for somebody to do something for them, we're teaching them to be empowered to be ripples of positive change for their community."

The program is a joint effort between UA Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development and family and consumer health sciences programming from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Tucson's non-profit BICAS group (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage) partnered with the group of young mentors on repair lessons and spare parts. 

"We got bikes out of people's garages, bikes that had been sitting in the sun for years and now we're recycling and reusing them," Tessman says. "It's basically been just a matter of asking."

The program is made possible through a Children, Youth and Families at Risk grant between Cochise and Pima Counties that works with high school youth to teach them about nutrition, physical activity, gardening and general healthy lifestyle practices that they in turn teach and advocate for in their schools and communities.  

So far this year, Tessman's youth team, the Douglas High School Mentor Group, has presented at the HEAL Conference held at the Tucson Village Farm, the Bi-National Health Conference in Douglas and at health festivals and youth events. In addition to the bicycle project, they are currently teaching nutrition, gardening and physical activity lessons to more than 50 elementary school students in an after-care program in conjunction with the Douglas Unified School District. 

"We are trying to do things to get young people to be more active by riding their bicycles and empowering them to fix minor problems and be able to do something this summer other than play video games," she says. "It's a great thing for kids to do, keeps them out of trouble for the summer and gives them a great community-service opportunity."