Bike Rodeo warms children’s hearts with bike give-away
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, August 2005) Despite the hot muggy weather, there wer lots of wide smiles on Saturday June 25th, as seventy children received their first bicycles at the Fifth Annual Bike Rodeo held at the parking lot of New Light Community Church of the Nazarene at W. 89th and Willard.

About 150 children attended the event. Children without bikes of their own, ages three to thirteen, entered the Rodeo’s bike lottery. About seventy children received bicycles and proceeded to try them out for size.

The W. 95th and W. 96th Street Block Club (between Lorain and Madison) organized the event. The Block Club’s Lynn Blatnica  enthusiastically solicited donations of bikes, bike accessories and cash donations to maximize the number of children receiving bikes. Block Club member Carolyn Kolar kept track of the finances.

Donations were solicited from a variety of sources. Going door to door in the neighborhood, Blatnica says one family pulled three bikes off their back porch that their children had outgrown. An Internet request for bicycles resulted in a donation of 30 bicycles from a man in Akron.  One man bought a brand new bike at Schneider’s Lorain Denison Bike Shop and told the block club to come and pick it up. The Lorain Denison Merchant’s Association donated $495 toward the fundraising effort. Other area businesses also made individual donations.

In addition to the bikes, forty-eight bike helmets were distributed. Blatnica says safety is stressed at the bike rodeo. First District Police Officers Sean Richardson and Albert Scott are regular participants each year, she said, reinforcing bike safety rules with the children.

As bikes were donated, a number of men from the block club worked to repair the bikes and make sure they were in good working order. On the day of the event, six neighborhood children, who already had bikes of their own, helped to transport the bikes to the church lot by riding them, making repeat trips. Blatnica was impressed with this new generation of volunteers, rewarded only with t-shirts and pizza. She said they all had a lot of fun helping out.

The block club received support in its efforts from Cudell Improvement and Councilman Jay Westbrook’s office. Westbrook’s office provided a letter on the councilman’s stationary to help legitimize the collection of donations. Birgit Hilliard of Cudell Improvement’s Crime Prevention Program was instrumental in organizing resources for the event. Cudell Improvement’s staff served as volunteers at the event. Mayor Jane Campbell’s office placed the event on the mayor’s calendar to help publicize the bike rodeo. The city of Cleveland Community Relations Department donated a canister of helium and balloons. Members of the Miss Cleveland Royalty Court volunteered to help with face painting and other children’s events.

Lynn Blatnica said that  block club members “love doing what we are doing. We know that many families, struggling to put a roof over their heads and food on the table, can’t afford bicycles for their children.”

Efforts of the volunteers are rewarded by the smiles and appreciation of the children. Blatnica noted one boy was having a hard time finding a bike that fit, until he was directed to an especially fancy bike that was just his size. She said the youngster had a hard time believing his good fortune that this fine bicycle was his to keep and he didn’t have to return it after riding it.  Blatnica said that, when she is out riding her bike, children approach her and point her out to their friends as “the lady that gave me my bike.”

After the rodeo, volunteers gathered for a picnic at Blatnica’s house.  Block club members offered their services for the days immediately after the bike rodeo to make adjustments and minor repairs as the children road tested their bikes. Blatnica said that next year the block club hopes to have an even larger bike rodeo, possibly moving the event to a larger location such as Zone Recreation Center.


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