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Biking the path to success

By Jessica Milicevic | Photography by Scott Murrish, Weldon Weaver

Posted: Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012

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The nonprofit might not be recognizable if the large, colorful bike mural weren’t painted on the side of the building, which stands near the neighborhood it supports in the NoDa art district. Paula Fricke, part founder of Trips for Kids Charlotte, says she actually likes the location of the building.

“We sit in in the middle of some of the neighborhoods where our kids live,” she says. “It helps to understand the environment that they come from.”

The nonprofit calls the neighborhoods “fragile” because of the nature of the living situation. Children who participate in Trips for Kids must come from “fragile communities or environments, which include but are not limited to: inner city neighborhoods; housing projects; impoverished rural communities; single-parent homes; foster homes; or environments where positive role models are scarce.”

“We want to instill confidence in the kids by showing them something good can happen in their life if they’ll work for it,” says Fricke.

Trips for Kids began in 1999 when Fricke says she was looking for a new avenue in her life. She was watching the news one night when a woman came on, talking about Trips for Kids in California.

“I taught and coached for years and I missed it a lot,” she says. “Once I got my master’s degree in business, I wanted to figure out a way to bring my two worlds together. This seemed like the perfect solution. I could bring my love of biking and athleticism to kids who really needed it.”

The nonprofit is now a national program which has expanded to 76 cities in three countries, including Canada and Israel.

Fricke says she wanted to help kids in Charlotte get back outside. “Biking is a lifelong sport,” she says. “If kids could get away from the computer and on a bike, they could find something they love to do for the rest of their lives.”

The nonprofit has two initiatives: the Ride and the Earn-A-Bike programs, in which the kids are engaged not only to learn the basics of biking, but also to learn about bike safety and how to repair and maintain a bike.

The Ride program offers mentoring experiences for youth, allowing the children from fragile neighborhoods to be placed with adult volunteers to ride trails as a group in Charlotte. Every Saturday morning from February through November, ten children and volunteers from local biking organizations ride at Fisher Farm Park and Colonel Francis Beatty Park.

“The kids who usually come are there because it’s a reward of some kind,” says Fricke. “Maybe their grades have gone up. Maybe it’s because their behavior has improved. But when they get here, they run towards the building as fast as they can, with big smiles on their faces. They are always excited to be here.”

The Earn-A-Bike program teaches kids how to maintain and repair a bike, and in the end, they are rewarded with their own bike. In four classes, held once a week, they are taught the names of the parts of the bicycle and how to change a flat tire, and they take a bike comprehension and safety test. If they pass, they receive a bike and participate in a skills course to test their bike and their bike handling skills. They conclude by attaching lights to their bikes.

During one of the classes, the instructor shows a group of Boy Scouts how to properly signal when on a bike. The boys all sit quietly, listening intently and excitedly learning the signals. When the instructor asks a question, each one of the eager hands go up, desperately wanting to participate and learn more.

During the class, Fricke comments on what the lesson teaches the boys.

“We want to teach them not just a fun sport, but also responsibility and respect,” says Fricke. “During class, you learn how to show respect to others riders, pedestrians and drivers by using turn signals. By teaching them to maintain a bike you’re enabling them to take responsibility for something other than themselves.”

Fricke says they also give the kids a lock for their bikes because in their neighborhoods, a nice bike is an easy target.

“It’s a shame, but we want the kids to be able to keep the bikes they worked so hard to get,” she says.

The bikes the kids receive at the end of the program come from the ReCyclery, the used bike shop owned by Trips for Kids. All of the proceeds go right back into the nonprofit, helping it hire people to teach the programs as well as bike mechanics for the ReCyclery.

Fricke says the shop has become so popular in the biking community that the need for donated adult bikes is greater than ever.

“We actually are selling bikes so fast that we can hardly keep them in the store,” says Fricke. “We opened a used bike shop when the economy took a downturn and people couldn’t afford brand new bikes. We are in desperate need of donated adult bikes.”

They also use the money from the used bike sales to take their kids on biking trips outside of Charlotte, such as the weekend trip to the Chattahoochee National Forest in the Georgia Mountains. The kids not only go mountain biking, but also go camping, zip lining and hiking.

“It’s such a reward to see these kids enjoying being active in the outdoors,” says Fricke. Their lives could have been so different, but we are helping them stay on the right path.”

To learn more about the Ride and Earn-A-Bike Programs and the ReCyclery, visit www.tripsforkidscharlotte.org.

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