Saturday, October 5, 2013
Cycling Program Transforms Lives One Child At A Time
Story by Max Almenas Photos Courtesy of CYCLE Kids
A boy named Toby was born with Hepatitis C in a home where there was a prevalence of drug, alcohol, and physical abuse in the family. He lived in a home for battered women with his mother in Boston.
In addition to being socially awkward and suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Toby was overweight and didn’t perform well scholastically. But after enrolling in CYCLE Kids, an after-school program designed to teach children how to ride a bike, wear a helmet properly, and eat healthier, Toby’s life took a different direction.
“His mother said, ‘I don’t know what this program is but now he [Toby] comes home and talks to me and does his homework,’” said Julianne Idlet, founder of CYCLE Kids, a school program designed to fight child obesity and promote healthier nutrition through the love of bicycling.
Idlet was a marketing executive for technology startups who left the corporate world in 2004 to develop CYCLE Kids. While conducting research as a coach for the Harvard University cycling team, she realized how prevalent diseases common with adults were becoming more prevalent among children.
“The more research I did, the more I realized children don’t exercise. They’re not doing the things I did when I was a kid, which was going out playing and riding my bike,” Idlet added. “They’re going to after-school programs and they’re much more sedentary.”
After designing the cycling curriculum for after-school programs in Cambridge and Boston, and hiring several fourth and fifth grade teachers, it was evident children were embracing the program. CYCLE Kids has worked with the American Heart Association to ensure the program is appropriate for each age group.
“Kids loved the program. They wanted to ride bikes. They just didn’t have the access to it,” Idlet said. “And it was really important children understood the necessity of eating well. I grew up in a family where everything was made fresh. We had our own garden we picked our own food. It was a healthy lifestyle.”
At the start of every school year, Idlet transported over 60 bicycles to schools, which were stored in the backyards and basements of friends and parents. But when it became evident she couldn’t scale CYCLE Kids as an after-school program, Idlet repackaged it as a physical education program to be sold or implemented to schools nationwide through fundraising to provide books, bikes, and helmets.
With the help of students from the Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneur program, she was able to launch CYCLE Kids in Cambridge and eventually expanded to other states including Atlanta, Texas, and New York.
Through the support of community leaders in New York City (NYC), such as Dr. Ed Fishkin and Charlie McCorkell, CYCLE Kids setup programs in Brooklyn schools, with the NYC Children's Aid Society, the Police Athletic League, and the YMCA in Chinatown.
CYCLE Kids has also teamed up with the Citibike program to make it easier for parents and children to learn the benefits of cycling together. To date, CYCLE Kids has reached over 1,500 children in NYC, and is expected to reach an additional 400 children in 2014.
On October 17, at 7pm-9pm, CYCLE Kids, with help from cycling legend Evelyn Stevens and teammates from the women’s pro cycling Team Specialized-lululemon, will be holding a fundraiser to expand the program.
You're invited to join them at the offices of the Wasserman Media Group, 444 Madison Avenue, 10th Floor, New York City. You can purchase a ticket by going to their website, cyclekids.org.
Idlet is also searching for celebrity sponsors to get involved in CYCLE Kids and Breakaway, the flagship annual cycling event, which celebrates the core values of CYCLE Kids: nutritious food, fun on bikes, and vibrant community.
To introduce CYCLE Kids to your school district, sponsor the organization, or learn more about their events, go to CYCLEKids.org