In Colonel Francis Beatty Park on the Union-Mecklenburg line, some of the beaming children biking wooded trails rarely see woods, let alone bike through them.
Some of their pictures hang on a bulletin board near the entrance of Hidden Valley Elementary in Charlotte, posted by teacher Terri Nemeth.
“We figure we'll never see them again, yet they'll come back on the very next trip,” Nemeth said.
Trips for Kids Charlotte offers kids from troubled neighborhoods a chance to escape for a few hours on most Saturday mornings. The organization, localized from a national group, also offers an Earn-a-Bike program, which involves kids learning how to repair bicycles and getting a free bike after completing three classes, and a Recyclery where people can donate and buy used bicycles.
It's all run from a small shop stuffed with donated bikes at 15th and North Davidson streets. And it's looking for volunteers from the Union County area, who are close to the park, to help.
Started in Charlotte about eight years ago, Trips for Kids has organized rides for thousands of kids at Colonel Beatty Park and Davidson's Fisher Farm Park. It works with organizations ranging from schools to the YMCA to Police Athletic Leagues, and provides bikes at the locations. Trips for Kids is also working with the county to build bike trails in the Lakewood neighborhood park in northwest Charlotte.
“A lot of them ride bikes in their streets and in the neighborhood, but very rarely do they have a chance to ride on trails through the woods,” said Harry Johnson, a Trips for Kids board member. “It's a challenge, and the kids are beat when they're done, but they just light up.”
For those who don't even own a bike, the Earn-a-Bike portion gives them a chance to do just that, while possibly learning some life lessons.
Kids who participate go through three two-hour sessions and learn about all of a bike's workings. They learn how to change a tire, maintain a bike and the actual names for each part. An estimated 300 kids have earned bikes in the two years that the program has existed.
During a recent class, 9-year-old Jack Whitley correctly identified nearly every bicycle part pinned to a peg board and removed a tube from a tire. When the program teacher – known as Mr. Terry – moved the lesson to bike cleaning, Jack pumped his fist in celebration.
Jack will receive a bike and wants to repair his old one to give to his 4-year-old cousin.
“I'm starting to learn how to do stuff, and I get to get greasy,” Jack said. “It's a challenge.”
In the same room where classes are held, donated bikes of various shapes and sizes hang from the ceiling and lean against the walls. Volunteers get the bikes in working order, then sell them to help fund the program and keep kids smiling.
“It's amazing how much excitement a bicycle can generate,” Mr. Terry said.