Dotty Nygard shares how members of a community can come together for the greater good. by Sarah Packard, Trips for Kids Chief Storyteller
Community outreach is part of Dotty Nygard’s DNA. Her parents were active in their community and instilled in Dotty at a young age the importance of giving back to the world -- and that one’s community goes beyond their city boundaries.
Tracy Earth Project Director, Dotty Nygard, poses with an Earn-a-Bike program participant.
As Dotty grew up, she found herself drawn to healthcare and the environment, which she says go hand in hand. “After all, your personal health depends on you surrounding yourself with a healthy community,” Dotty explains.
She became an ER nurse, served on the city council for Riverbank, California, and eventually, wanting to make an even bigger impact, planned an Earth Day event for her immediate community, the city of Tracy, California. To maximize her impact, Dotty submitted for 501c3 status and established Tracy Earth Project, a group of community volunteers advocating to educate, empower and inspire responsible environmental practices that start at home.
But just as the organization was getting off the ground, COVID-19 hit. As a healthcare professional and person who thrived off of connections with her community, Dotty felt lost.
“It was a devastating time. Being in healthcare, I saw personally the effects of covid and how unprepared we were, especially with the basic needed personal equipment to keep ourselves and our communities safe. The isolation was difficult, and took an emotional toll on so many, riding my bike gave me an escape”
Dotty, who had purchased a new bike right before the pandemic hit, decided to start biking as an outlet. She stumbled upon a local bike group, Tracy Bike Life, by accident. “There is a local group of about 100 people that rides every Thursday night,” Dotty recalls. “Unbeknownst to me, the first ride I decided to participate in was shared with a much larger network, so when I arrived, I saw there were about 2,000 riders!” The community aspect of the ride wasn’t lost on Dotty, and she knew she had discovered a new passion. Just a few months later, the Thursday night biking group expressed an interest in doing more, and wanted to build a bike park, and a bike program, for the community.
“The wheels were put into motion…literally!” Dotty laughed. Tracy Earth Project started doing research and came across Trips for Kids online. “It was the perfect fit,” says Dotty. “Trips for Kids offered everything we were looking for… structure, curriculum, resources…it was the perfect template.” Dotty, a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, says things started falling into place from there.
Her biking group organized a drive to have a pump track built at a park in Tracy. After attending planning commission meetings, transportation commission meetings and finally bringing a local petition to city council, the group was awarded $1 million under a City Improvement Project.
Shortly after, the Housing Authority of San Joaquin County donated a unit on their compound free of charge, and the Tracy Bike Life Youth program, under the umbrella of Tracy Earth Project’s 501c3, launched in March utilizing Trips for Kids Earn--a-Bike STEM curriculum. The kids in the housing complex were the first to participate, with a large cookout to celebrate.
“The launch was phenomenal,” Dotty recalls. “The Mayor, every city council member, chief of police and several representatives from elected offices came. A lot of the families that ride in our group came to support, and of course, we invited the entire housing complex. It really felt like an expansion of our new family.”
The first cohort, which lasted six weeks and was composed of around 15 kids with four instructors, was a great success. And two cohorts later, and the program is still going strong, with organized rides and repair workshops twice a week.
“Some of our kids have never ridden outside their neighborhood,” said Dotty. “You can see the excitement on their faces every time we go out. And of course, after we ride, we usually end up at an ice cream shop,” she adds. “It’s the grandma in me…we have to reward our kids for their hard work!”
Dotty says one of the most rewarding aspects of the program are the kids who return after completing their cohort to coach other kids, and seeing the kids help each other learn tricks, as well as the proper names and usage of the various tools used to repair bikes. She has also seen participants fixing bikes up for their friends or siblings -- an experience she says is particularly heartwarming. “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime life experience,” says Dotty. She credits the instructors with the program’s success, and says her community connections and experience in public office have also given the organization a leg up.
Dotty acknowledges that she’s busy, but says she wouldn’t have it any other way. While she plans to retire as an ER nurse later this year, she has no plans to walk away from her community, and especially the bike community, any time soon.
“This has been an incredible joy,” Dotty said. “It takes a village, and this is a village I’m just thrilled to be a part of.”