I was stopped by a public school teacher in New York City. He was heartbroken. Here’s the story he told me: In 2010, a young male who was repeatedly bullied at his inner-city high school joined a bicycling program where this teacher volunteered as a coach. The bike program was the only sports program available to this kid. The program targeted at-risk youth by combining bicycling with mentoring and life skills development. “I watched this kid transform before my very eyes.”
In 2011, the young male was not only attending school regularly but he finished first in a hundred mile race. This was a big accomplishment for a cyclist who had not even been on a bike before joining the program. It also exposed him to the possibilities in his future. “I knew this kid was smart and was going places.”
In 2012, the bicycle program, struggling to raise funds in this troubled economy, was forced to discontinue services at this teacher’s school. And that’s when the heartbreak happened: “The kid came up to me just last week and told me that he dropped out of school. ‘Coach’, he said, ‘this cycling program was the only place that ever made me feel I belonged.’"
The cost of maintaining one bicycle for that school translates to the cost of an entire life that will not progress beyond a high school education. That’s a life at greater risk of being incarcerated, unemployed and dependent on public assistance. The alternative was simply a bicycle.
The irony of this story is that it was told to me in the lobby of an Equinox gym where tens and thousands of New Yorkers take their cycling machines for granted. I think there’s a message here to gyms and other corporations: use the power of your business to help the communities you serve. What would it take for gyms to have community nights where programs that bring health to underserved youth can share information with their health conscious consumers? For the gym, it would demonstrate that their commitment to fitness extends beyond the bottom line—it reaches out into the community. For the gym member, it would help them to take pride in companies that they choose to give their business. And for the nonprofits, it might just create a connection with one conscientious gym member who could donate a bicycle….and save a life.
Gyms and other companies that want to make a genuine difference in the wellbeing of children across America should reach out to me, and I’ll help them set up these community nonprofit nights. And, for individuals, don’t wait for your gym to motivate you, just visit www.up2us.org and let us know if you have sports equipment that we can put into a child’s hand tomorrow.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director