Biking helps them straight into their future
Originally published: August 14, 2010 3:23 PM
By JAN TYLER Special to Newsday
Mountain bike trails typically involve a series of ups and downs. And a group of volunteers believes that riding those trails can show children that life’s ups and downs can be confronted with courage and self-confidence. “I firmly believe that a day on a bike can change a child’s life forever,” said Andree Sanders, president of Trips For Kids Metro NY, which hosts one-day mountain bike outings for the underprivileged. “I hope to show these kids that facing and overcoming new challenges can build self-esteem and confidence.” On a recent Saturday morning at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island, volunteers from the group met up with a van carrying four boys from Little Flower Children and Family Services residential campus in Wading River.
The volunteers outfitted the boys — mainly it is boys who participate — with bikes and helmets and offered instruction. Then the group hit the trails. Little Flower houses and cares for up to 100 boys and girls, 9 to 19, referred from social services agencies on Long Island and New York City. “Many children are here due to some disruption in their families,” said Sharon Condon, Little Flower’s Recreation/Volunteer Coordinator. Some go home on weekends, she said, but others look forward to special activities such as the Trips For Kids outings. Girls rarely participate in the rides, said Eric Rickenbacker, 40, of Coram, a 12-year employee of Little Flower.
Physical challenges Sanders, 46, of Manhattan, a longtime mountain biker, said the chapter conducts rides for as many as 200 kids yearly at Bethpage State Park and Cathedral Pines, a Suffolk County Park. The New York chapter is one of 65 in the United States, Canada and Israel of Trips for Kids, an international nonprofit founded in 1986 to offer free bike trips to inner-city kids who had never had the opportunity to test themselves physically. Most had never seen the countryside. The group’s premise was that the kids would learn valuable life skills and self-confidence.
Working well together Sanders brings her husband and son to help on the rides. “It’s important to show the kids how families can work and play together,” she said, “something most of them have never seen.”
“Sharing the day with these children is as much fun for me and my family as it is for them,” says TFKMetroNY vice president Ron Ganz, 48, of Syosset, as he unloads bikes and equipment from the van. “We love to see the joy and smiles on the faces of these underprivileged children who might never have an experience like this as they grow up.” The park trails are built and maintained by CLIMB (Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers), a volunteer organization. About eight miles of trails follow the contours of the terrain and some are rugged.
“Mountain biking is not like street biking,” Sanders said. “There are techniques to learn, how to handle the rough surfaces.” She and other group leaders demonstrate how to master the jumps over fallen logs and negotiate hills and gullies. After watching the demonstrations, the boys follow, often with cries of “I did it! That was super.” The group also aims to use the rides to create an awareness of the natural world. “We point out the distinctive features of the trees and shrubs and even how the rocks were deposited by glaciers millennia ago,” Ganz says.
At the end of the day, the volunteers and participants sit on the grass under the shade of the towering pines that give the park its name. As they sip bottled lemonade and nibble cookies, each child is urged to talk about the day. They appear tired but excited. “When we get back, those kids are ‘wired’ and they can talk about nothing else,” Rickenbacker said.
One Little Flower resident, 16-year-old Mike, could hardly contain his enthusiasm: “Being outdoors in the woods, riding the trails over the hills and bumps — it was the greatest day I ever had.”
Trips For Kids Metro NY welcomes volunteers. Information is available at www.TFKMetroNY.org