He didn’t want to let go of it.
By JENNIFER BHARGAVA
Special to The Star
After awkwardly riding around the bustling church gymnasium, Christopher Gamón slowly dismounted his new blue bike and clutched it closely by his side.
The 8-year-old from Shawnee recently started learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. But it was difficult because his old bike at home was so tiny.
Now, he wouldn’t have any problem conquering his goal.
“I fell a few times but it wasn’t scary,” he said, excitedly. “I love my new bike. It’s like an early Christmas present.”
The Nieman Elementary School third-grader is just one of more than 150 kids who received a new used bike Friday evening at New City Church in Shawnee.
The church worked with the city of Shawnee and the Shawnee Mission School District to provide free used bikes to any students in third through sixth grades who wanted one from nearby Shawanoe, Nieman, and Comanche Elementary Schools.
Back in October, the city provided 192 bikes for the event. They all had been donated by residents. Dozens of volunteers, many from the church, tirelessly spent evenings and weekends over the last few months repairing and cleaning the bikes.
On Friday evening, all the kids from those schools who wanted a bike and were given parental permission flocked to the church to pick out their new mode of transportation.
As kids filtered in, they had their choice of any color, from pink to green. Or any style of bike, from mountain to vintage.
“These kids are walking out the door with smiles on their faces,” said Shawnee Councilman Jim Neighbor, who came to watch the event. “You can tell they love their new bikes. Their Christmas is fine now.”
One of those glowing faces was Avaughn Little, a fourth-grader from Nieman Elementary. He was the first lucky kid to receive a bike.
“I chose a black bike with green on it because it reminded me of a Monster drink,” he said. “I rode it around outside for a bit and it was fun.”
Standing around watching the excitement was Neil Holman, parks and recreation director of Shawnee, who helped make it all happen.
The city started collecting used bikes a few years ago when Shawnee officials noticed residents were placing bikes in the large item trash pick-ups, he said. Shawnee soon started collecting bikes as part of a recycling initiative.
Their dedication to putting salvageable bikes back in the community hasn’t gone unnoticed.
David Dye, the shop manager of Velo + in Lenexa, was a volunteer mechanic at the event. After each kid chose their bike and received a free helmet, Dye and other volunteer mechanics gave each bike a final check-up. They adjusted the seats to fit the rider. They made sure everything was working properly.
When Dye heard about the city, church and school district working together to give away used bikes to kids, he couldn’t have been more impressed.
“It’s astounding how many perfectly good bikes will end up in a landfill,” he said. “It’s sad to see them wasted. I think what they’re doing is awesome.”
He pointed out that as childhood obesity skyrockets and physical education keeps getting cut in schools nationwide, bicycle riding is an important lifestyle choice for every kid.
Holman agrees. He hopes to make the event an annual one.
But the bike festivities aren’t over for the school year yet, he pointed out.
The city is once again partnering with New City Church and the nearby elementary schools in May to organize a bike rodeo for the kids, which will highlight bike safety and etiquette.
“Riding a bike is more than just riding a bike,” said Stan Anderson, principal of Nieman Elementary. “It’s about being respectful and keeping safe. Those are the most important factors.”