A bicycle donation and safety program in Owen Sound is giving bikes, helmets and reflectors to children from families from other countries who have settled in the city.
So far there are 29 children aged three to 17, mostly from Kurdish parts of Syria, some from Eritrea and India, on a bike waiting list. Another 15 bikes owned by newcomers need repair.
Organizer Katie Holovaci, president of the Sydenham and District Optimist Club, got a small group of young people from the club’s youth wing, the Owen Sound and District Junior Optimist Club, to help organize the project.
Natu Yousef, 17, who moved to Owen Sound from Eritrea, sits on the committee with them.
With some funding for youth-led initiatives from RBC Foundation and Community Foundation Grey Bruce, the program was launched at Grey County’s Sydenham Campus last month.
Eight kids from four families came. Two kids who needed a refurbished bike each got one. Three got new bike helmets and all received bicycle and street safety training, including parents and guardians.
The lists of who needs what are generated by Andy and David Foster, who run Arden Language Centre in the Alliance Church in Owen Sound. There they run seven classes in English instruction for adults from 10 countries.
Most of the 34 students have either settled in Owen Sound or are sponsored and studying online before arriving here. A few are settling elsewhere in Ontario, Andy Foster said. She and her husband have lived in different parts of the world, and they have had a hand raising their kids from other parents in those countries. The bike program does the same for newcomer families here.
Most of the people needing bikes are from refugee families but one family immigrated here. Bikes and helmets are expensive purchases, particularly when there are multiple kids to buy for, Foster noted.
Jason Cranny, the community services officer with Owen Sound Police Services, did a bike and street safety video last year, which aired on Rogers TV, as a way of reaching youths when pandemic restrictions made in-person instruction difficult.
This year’s initiative expanded to provide safety training to more newcomers beyond those in the video, and their parents. Properly fitted helmets, hand signals, where to stop at a light or stop sign are all important aspects of cycling everyone should know, he said.
He partnered with Holovaci, who decided to find bikes, helmets and reflectors for the youth to go along with the training.
Holovaci said donations of bikes for older kids, with wheels larger than 20 inches across, are needed. Donated bikes are taken to Scenic Cycle in Owen Sound, where they’re assessed and fixed as warranted.
Offers of bikes may be made to Holovaci at firstname.lastname@example.org.