covers TFK New Bedford

August 25, 2013


NEW BEDFORD — For most of the year, New Bedford is the place they live. But come summertime, the city becomes their playground for young participants in Trips for Kids. They cycle from beach to park to tennis court, soaking up the sun, savoring the fresh air and grinning all the while.

Trips for Kids New Bedford (TFK), which was founded in 2001, helps youngsters safely explore their urban home via program-supplied bicycles. According to its mission statement, TFK uses bicycles "as a vehicle for lessons in confidence building, achievement, health, fitness and environmental awareness."

Trips officials said this kind of recreation is critical for the kids, city children who might otherwise have limited access to exercise and fresh air, learning new skills or discovering what their home city has to offer.

Those who are waging battles against weight also benefit. They gain confidence and a sense of athleticism — having so much fun that they don't even realize that they are exercising.

"We're here to uplift, we're here as a team," executive director Bernadette Souza stressed.

Locally, Trips for Kids offers four different programs throughout the year, which are geared toward children ages 10-16. In mid-August, the eight-week Explore Your Environment program was in full swing, with the staff of experienced middle and high school teachers keeping their young bikers busy.

The exploration program takes participants all around the South End peninsula and on adventures that include swimming, sports, and visiting local farms.

One recent Wednesday, the group biked to Hazelwood Park for some friendly, non-competitive "bowling on the green," tennis, and basketball.

Many of the outdoor programs take place at public parks and beaches, which are easily accessible by bike. Kids love taking advantage of the parks, and often return with their families in tow, which perpetuates healthier lifestyles, Souza said.

They also encounter some unique opportunities in their travels. On their recent trip, the children rode along the water after visiting Hazelwood Park and happened upon a man flying a kite. It turned out that he was a competitive flyer who attended international conventions and he was very eager to share his experiences with the children.

"You never know when a learning moment is going to happen," Souza said, recalling a spontaneous bird identification that happened earlier that morning and an encounter with a shark fisherman the week before.

Souza explained that the program is "kid-led" when it comes to ideas for activities. For instance, when the staff was preparing cookies on a rainy day, the children asked if they could learn how to cook, too.

It was an Aha! moment. That's when TFK's "Food for Thought" cooking program was born. During the school year, local chefs present lessons about healthy meals that kids can recreate at home when they are alone or watching after younger siblings.

"We try to follow their natural learning instincts and build on them," said JoAnn Tschaen, founder and senior adviser for TFK.

The staff had also been encountering an increasing number of children who don't know how to ride bicycles. Thus, a spring skill clinic was born.

Many former participants recognize the value of their TFK experiences, and later return as staff members to pay it forward to children whose shoes they were once in.

For example, 16-year-old Terrie Pierre took part in a TFK bike workshop offered by her school when she was in sixth grade. Four years later, Pierre was placed as a staff member by career center New Directions. She said she gained a real sense of unity and community through the program, both as a participant and as a leader.

"By the end of the week, we're like a new little family," she said. "When you have one thing in common, it bonds everyone. We're all wearing the same helmets, riding the same bikes."

"That's how we make change in the world," Souza said. "It's right here, with these kids."

TFK offers programs throughout the year. For more information, visit www TFK New Bedford is located at the Victory Park Warming House, 224 Brock Avenue. The chapter is a member of Trips for Kids International, which was founded in 1988 and is based in Marin County, California. The international program now has 80 locations in the U.S., Canada, and Israel, and has served more than 100,000 children, officials said.

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