RYE BROOK, N.Y. – Nine-year-old Ashley Doonan spends her summer days working on reading and writing at Ward Summer Learning Camp in Port Chester. But, Wednesday she and 17 of her fellow campers put their books down and picked up bicycles they were given through Linking Handlebars.
The organization, founded by four Rye students, collects, repairs and then distributes used bicycles to area kids. They recently partnered with Westchester County’s Bikes4Kids initiative.
On Wednesday, it held its summer distribution event at Bethesda Baptist Church, where 18 summer camp students rode off with bicycles.
“It’s the most fabulous thing you can get is a bicycle,” Doonan’s mother, Eileen, said as Linking Handlebars co-founder Cristiana Villani got the Midland School student situated on her new bike. “It brings so much fun and freedom.”
Bethesda Baptist Church Pastor Gerald Washington, who works with Ward Summer Learning Camp, remembered his first bike, which was a 24-inch blue bike his brother bought him.
“I was so happy I took that bike all over New Rochelle,” he said, in between helping families load their new bikes into the car. “When kids get something like this they really enjoy it.”
Washington applauded Villani and Linking Handlebars co-founders Lucia Villani, Briddget Salice and Jenna Cammisa, all of whom attend or attended Rye High School.
“When this group came wanting give away the bikes I thought that was off the charts and it’s just added another punch to our camp,” he said.
To get a bike, campers had to participate in a walkathon fund-raiser on July 19 to help the camp pay for a field trip to Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn.
“They put in an effort and we put in an effort,” Salice said.
George Estrada, 5, and Scott Sulivan, 7, both of Port Chester, both enjoyed their new bikes.
“I think it’s an excellent program,” said Ruth Anne Cosgrove, Scott’s grandmother. “It’s a program that the community really benefits from.”
Linking Handlebars’ next distribution will likely take place in December and they plan to make it a big one by giving away 60 bicycles.