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Fixing life with something as simple as fixing a bike

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Life had come at 12-year-old Chris fast. Not even a teenager yet, and he felt like he already had a lifetime worth of experience with the juvenile court system. Now, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice had arranged for him to attend a program aimed at fixing bicycles with local police officers. Chris rolled his eyes, but to appease his parents, who had sprouted plenty of new gray hairs over the past few years, as a result of his actions he felt, he put on a smile and said he’d do it.

What Chris didn’t realize is that over the next ten weeks, he’d be doing much more than building bikes, he’d be building relationships. Those relationships would eventually replace the activities that had been putting him in front of a judge, with new friends and mentors that he could lean on for a lifetime.

Through United Way’s Rollin’ Strong program, Chris, and other at-risk youth from some of Rockford’s most struggling neighborhoods, are given the tools to learn life-long skills, while developing relationships with the police officers they felt they couldn’t trust in the past. The program engages kids between 11 and 14 years old through bike repair. Partnering with the Rockford Police Department and Kegel's Bicycle Store, the kids work alongside officers and bike repair experts to fix up bikes that range from mangled pieces to having a simple flat tire.

At the end of the program, the kids get to see the bikes they worked on being sold in a storefront on Broadway, while also getting to keep a bike of their own that they worked on over the course of the program. But, in the end, it’s not about the bicycles. It’s about the positive relationships formed with the police, bike technicians, United Way leaders, and classmates they worked, laughed and built friendships with during those ten weeks. The small repairs on the bikes become a microcosm for the small repairs they can make in their own lives, to get them back on a track towards social and academic success.

If you know a child that is headed down a problematic path that could benefit from real, hands-on learning with a sense of purpose, contact Grant Schubert with the United Way to see how they can sign up for the Rollin’ Strong program. Grant can be reached at grant@unitedwayrrv.org.

If you’d like to donate to United Way to support programs like Rollin’ Strong, click here.

No child deserves to feel like they have a predetermined path based on early difficulties in life. The Rollin’ Strong program can help repair that path, and fix life with something as simple as fixing a bike.

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