Those who follow SBBIKE’s Facebook page have seen a taste of the joy shared among volunteers and a host of youthful cyclists at Saturday’s health fair on the west side. If a picture speaks a thousand words, the videos by SBBIKE board member Hector Gonzales, particularly this one showing two of the children who rode a bike for the first time that bright, scorching day, are a tome. In the quiet murmurs of exhilaration and the knitted eyebrows of fear overcome live a tale that reaches far into the future. These first pedal strokes depict thousands of miles of freedom, self-satisfaction, and adventure. Imbedded here are years of healthful exercise and environmentally sustainable transportation. In the interactions with volunteers like Hector and Mike Vergeer (in the video in the green and orange shirts respectively) lives a future of community connection and volunteerism and participation in what you believe in for generations to come.
This, my friends, is the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and its partners in the community (COAST, the city of Santa Barbara, Girls Inc., to name a few) at work for you!
The story of Melissa and her brother
That sweet little girl in the video wearing the blue shirt is six-year-old Melissa. I met Melissa right after she’d finished the bilingual safety basics class taught by SBBIKE board member Robert Caiza. She was practically vibrating with excitement. “What did you learn?” I asked her. She grinned and stuck out her left arm. “For when you turn.”
“And wearing your helmet for safety,” prompted a smiling woman looking down lovingly from her side. Melissa’s hand involuntarily landed on the brand-new purple helmet atop her head (provided by COAST and SB City to all who took the safety class), and she smiled that mixture of pride and shyness only the innocence of youth can convey.
“How do you feel about riding?” I wanted to know. Excited, duh. “I’m gonna ride with no training wheels!”
Enter Hector. In the video, you see Melissa turn and call, “I’m doing it, Gina.”
Gina, the woman by her side earlier, is Melissa and her seven-year-old brother’s foster mom. As Gina and I watched, Melissa’s brother rode the loop in front of the coalition’s booth over and over. He rode with a singleness of purpose--as if with each turn he made (each becoming smoother as he went), he was working through troubles in his mind. He rode fearlessly and with unbroken concentration, circling around the bright red poster board cutout of a car designed to teach new riders to stay out of the door zone and along the orange cones simulating street lanes. When he fell at one point, not quite braking before he got to the curb, I asked him if he was all right. He looked up at me only for a second, as if acknowledging the distraction of my question only out of politeness, and jumped back on the bike.
Melissa’s brother, Gina told me, has been struggling. This day, this bike ride was the first time she’d seen him so engaged, so clearly enjoying something in the six months the kids have been with her. Though she’d been feeling under the weather lately, the broiling sun wasn’t an issue--seeing her foster kids so happy made it worth it.
“I’m gonna buy the kids bikes,” Gina told me. She recently learned that the kids will be staying with her for another six months. And she’s looking forward to more days like this--days where Melissa and her brother can be kids riding bicycles without a care in the world.
Having successfully ridden without training wheels, Melissa came over beaming. “[Before] I rode, I and I fell." She gestured to the distance spot of her earlier spill. "Then I rode and I fell.” She pointed in the other direction. “Now I don’t fall anymore.”
Said Lynette Arnold, a volunteer with SBBIKE who’s active in its Spanish Outreach arm, “We’re seeing them learn to ride right in front of our eyes!” Thanks, Hector, for sharing a little of what an amazing experience that is with all of us.
Saturday’s health fair was the third annual Santa Barbara Family Day and Health Fair. Bici Familia--the safety class, on-street instruction, and helmet giveaway--saw 115 participants, distributed 100 helmets, and taught more than 20 to ride for the first time.