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Program brings biking to all youth

Twenty years ago, Marilyn Price took a mountain bike ride up to Mount Tamelpias overlooking San Francisco and had a revelation.

Price had been living in San Francisco and volunteering at the local soup kitchen and got to know many of the kids that came in regularly. When she was looking out from Mount Tamelpias, she thought of those kids and knew that she wanted them to be able to see what she saw. So, she adopted a mission to bring cycling to underserved children in the community.

Price’s passion for cycling, social activism and environmentalism came together to help her create the non-profit Trips for Kids, which now has 64 chapters nationwide. Price and other chapter heads presented their vision for bringing economic and ethnic diversity to the sport of mountain biking at this week’s International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) World Summit in Park City.

"We’re creating mountain biking adventures for kids that would not otherwise have the opportunity," Price said.

For 10 years, Price operated her organization as a donation of her time and love, but 10 years ago she began expanding. She set it up as a sustainable non-profit organization, hired staff members and created a model that cities all over the country have adopted. Trips for Kids does more than just take inner city youth out on a bike ride once a year. It has set up a model that allows kids to bike for free numerous times a year, complete a work program to earn bikes of their own and buy gear and equipment at the program’s bike thrift shop.

"We’ve taken 46,000 kids on bike rides," she said. "Kids love mountain biking. Not only does it provide kids with a challenge, but exposes them to the natural world."

Price now runs the Marin, Calif. chapter of the program as well as overseeing the national organization. She has made it easy to start a local chapter. Organizational models carefully walk people through all the steps needed to create a Trips for Kids program can be found on her website. She hopes to see it grow as big as the Boy Scouts or Boys and Girls Club someday.

"Together, we can all bring the challenge of mountain biking to underserved kids," she said.

Price and chapter heads from Seattle, Wash., Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn. and the southern region of the United States. Belinda Sauret, who runs Trips for Kids underneath the umbrella of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), describes their passion. Not only has the organization worked tirelessly to create Trips for Kids rides throughout the South, but the has redesigned the usual American-style kids recreational mountain biking program to better fit in with the cultural norms and practices of underserved populations.

For a while, Sauret fought adult administrators over the need for a kids program until she pointed out to them that kids are the future of the sport.

Gary Sjoquist, Advocacy Director for Quality Bicycle Products and head of the Twin Cities (Minnesota) Trip for Kids program, which is part of the local IMBA chapter, backed up her argument with facts. Demographic studies show that Hispanics are fast becoming the second largest segment of the population in the U.S. and that most mountain bikes are typically sold to middle-aged Caucasian males.

"The industry is being led by aging white guys like me," he chuckled.

To help the sport continue to grow and prosper, Sjoquist said that reaching out to all kids is paramount.

Sauret, who teaches high school Spanish as her day job, said to make sure that advertising is placed directly in papers and locations where underserved populations might be looking and to make alliances with organization that serve ethnic communities or disadvantaged youth and recommended teaching Spanish to riding instructors. She also said to make sure that trails are easy and accessible for beginning riders. Finally, she said program organizers should take stock of what the youth want out of the program.

"It’s looking and listening to the needs of new groups, not doing the same thing and wondering why the kids aren’t coming."

Sjoquist offered a detailed process for setting up a Trips for Kids program. He explains that people must take a reality check of how the program would play out in their city and how suited they are to running a kids’ program. He then recommended making a plan to solicit support in the form of funding, gear and manpower and making alliances with programs that work with underserved children.

Kat Sweet, who runs the Seattle sector of Trips for Kids with the Cascade Bicycling Club, brought the session full circle as she explained the importance or working with established mountain biking programs to help bolster volunteers, funding, build communities, create more visibility and gain greater accessibility.

Price says that while she has never taken an official evaluation of the program, the feedback continues to encourage her to continue to bring the Trips for Kids to as many deserving youth as possible.

Price tells the story of a Hispanic adult who was out on the trails when he came upon some Trips for Kids workers. He shared that one bike trip with the program has changed his life. Rather than pursuing a life on the streets, the cycling program revealed to him a love for biking and the outdoors and has been taking friends out on the trails ever since.

Sjoquist says that programs like this are important to everyone involved.

"We need to reach out to all groups all colors, all ethnicities," Sjoquist said.

Trips for Kids programs already exists in both Salt Lake and Provo and Price hopes to see more chapters crop up. For more information, visit http://www.tripsforkids.com.


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