Church, nonprofit team up with family event

Remember that feeling when you first got your training wheels off?

(Above) A girl practices riding at last year’s Bike Extravaganza event at St. Stephen United Methodist Church. This year’s event, held Saturday, April 20, at the south Charlotte church, had a number of children learn to ride their bikes without training wheels. The event also collected donations of bikes for kids in need throughout the area, which will be refurbished by the group Trips For Kids Charlotte.

Local kids experienced the feeling this weekend at the Bike Extravaganza, thanks to St. Stephen United Methodist Church and Trips For Kids Charlotte. And through the efforts of those two groups, even more kids might get to ride soon.

“It was fantastic,” the Rev. Melissa Lamm, church director of children and family ministries, said in summing up the Saturday, April 20, event. “The big success stories were kids that came on training wheels and left, with help from Trips For Kids, riding without training wheels. Some were even our little bitty kids whose parents were more reluctant than their kids” to take off the training wheels.

The secret, as explained by Trips For Kids’s Dick Winters, is taking off the training wheels and pedals, lowering the seat so children’s feet can touch the ground and helping kids learn balance before learning to ride.

“Training wheels give kids a false sense of balance,” Winters explained. “Taking the training wheels off and the pedals and letting kids scoot on it using their feet to move the bike forward … and from that they learn a better sense of balance. Training wheels teach you steering and pedaling before you learn balance.”

Lamm said around 100 people, including families from nearby Greenway Park Elementary, attended throughout the three-hour event. Winters estimated that 12 to 15 children learned to scoot without training wheels during the event, with some ready to ride their bikes home by the end of the day.

“To me, the most fun is watching kids graduate from riding with training wheels,” Winters said.

Added Lamm, “the ones who came on training wheels and left without were all extremely proud of themselves.”

Bike Extravaganza not only included opportunities for area children to learn to ride their bikes without training wheels, but also was responsible for bringing in 15 to 20 bicycle and scooter donations from local families for Trips For Kids. The group provides children from underserved neighborhoods with bicycles of their own, teaching the kids how to properly take care of their new ride.

“Kids go through a program called Earn-A-Bike, where they come in and learn about the safety involved with the bike, a little maintenance on it like changing a flat tire and they leave with a bike, a helmet, a lock and a set of lights,” Winters explained.

To earn their bicycle, kids have to complete lessons focused on personal responsibility, achievement and self-empowerment, according to the group’s website. They learn the names of the parts of the bike, take a “bike comprehension test” that challenges their skills and then pick out a bike and learn about how safely to wear a helmet and “commit to its use.”

The group also has outdoor riding afternoons at locations like the U.S. National Whitewater Center in western Mecklenburg County and Colonel Beatty Park in southeast Charlotte.

Trips For Kids also lucked out by hooking up with Ultimate Bicycle, which was at the event providing bike services to kids. The company ended up providing the nonprofit with a number of additional donations. Winters said there is always a need for bike donations, and anyone with a used bike in any condition can give it to the group. If it can’t be refurbished to a suitable condition, the group can use parts from the donation to fix up another bike or at the very least make sure it is recycled instead of ending up in a landfill.

Find more information at the nonprofit’s website, www.tripsforkid scharlotte.org. Along with bike and scooter donations, the group accepts cash and volunteers. Organizations wanting to host events with Trips For Kids, such as what St. Stephen UMC did, can contact the group online.

In addition to helping children learn to ride, Trips For Kids and Ultimate Bicycle did bike tune-ups, checked brakes, adjusted seats and checked air pressure in tires. The event also included ice cream and cotton candy for kids and a bike lane as part of the church ministry team’s effort to provide cheap family activities at least once a quarter. The church also does a fall festival and a bingo night in the winter.

Trish Baker, one of the event organizers, helped out on Saturday while her 8-year-old daughter, Amy, took part in the festivities.

“Amy washed her bike at the bike wash station, then went down and had it checked by Ultimate Bicycle and then decorated it,” Baker said. Amy then took her ride off to the bike lane to do some laps.

Find more information at the church’s website, www.ststephenumc.net. St. Stephen UMC is located at 6800 Sardis Road.

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