Colby Carter was at a loss for words, as if he were still getting used to the idea of his new ride.
Carter, an 8-year-old second-grader at Eastridge Elementary in Aurora, stood on the school's playground on April 23, a brand-new bike at his side with a new helmet hanging from one of the handlebars. Carter was one of about 150 second-graders who received free bikes as part of a joint effort between the Wish For Wheels nonprofit organization and donor Audi Denver. Staff from the bike repair shop Velofix were also on hand at the school to help teach the kids about basic maintenance and repair work.
It was all a bit overwhelming for Carter, whose immediate plans consisted of simply riding in the park near his house after school. Carter hadn't had a lot of time to digest the news – he and the rest of the Eastridge's second-graders had only found out last week that they'd be getting new bikes.
"I used to have a bike, but it got a flat tire and I can't ride it anymore," Carter said simply, constantly shooting awed glances at his new set of wheels.
Giving kids like Carter safe access to dependable bicycles was the driving force behind the giveaway at Eastridge, according to Mary Anderson, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) teacher at the school. Anderson was on hand to personally lead second-graders to pick out their new wheels from the rows upon rows of gleaming bikes that had just been unloaded from a Wish For Wheels truck.
Some kids hopped on and took rides around the playground with no hesitation. Others were more uncertain, working hard to achieve the right balance, figure out the pedaling and find the brakes. The fact that every bike came with a free helmet and bike lock was part of an effort to make sure that every rider was safe, no matter their background or expertise on the road.
"We have a very diverse population here, with over 40 languages spoken. It's not necessarily a cultural given that the kids here will have bikes or know how to ride a bike," Anderson said. "The second-graders are all very excited … This is Wish for Wheels' first time at Eastridge."
Eastridge fourth-graders were also on hand at the giveaway, working directly with the technicians from Velofix to hone their repair skills to serve as an important future resource for the bike recipients. If any rider has any issue with their bike in the coming months, they can report to their own peers from the school at a makeshift, in-house repair shop, Anderson said.
The training is a way of providing community support and fostering STEM education, she added.
"We're going to have a bicycle repair shop at the school next year," Anderson said. "When any of these kiddos have any issue with their bikes, the fifth-graders can fix it and train the next class of fourth-graders."
Staff from Audi Denver were also fully invested in the feeling of community betterment that marked the entire event. Steve Powers, Audi Denver's general manager and vice president of operations, was on hand to help kids find their new bikes. What's more, Powers and more than 100 Audi Denver staff members had spent hours the previous day assembling the bikes and making sure they were ready for their riders.
The hard work on behalf of the Eastridge second-graders was part of a broader effort to be a significant part of the local community and engage potential customers in the effort.
"It's in everyone's best interests to get kids on bikes and to get kids on bikes at an early age," Powers said. "It gives us a story to tell. We really like to be able to tell our clients and our future clients that this is something that we do. Each and every person who buys a car from us is contributing to this vision of ours."
Ron Dominguez and his daughter, 8-year-old Samantha Adamski, were taking part in that vision during the chaotic and moving giveaway ceremony. Both had been taken completely off-guard by the news of the free bike, and Dominguez was hesitant to let his daughter accept such a generous gift. When he found out that the entire second-grade class was set to receive the same prize, however, he let up and decided to let his daughter enjoy a gift that encourages an active lifestyle and exercise.
After all, it's a gift he never received when he was an elementary school student growing up in Denver.
"When I grew up, I didn't have anything like this at my school," Dominguez said. "When we found out they were giving bikes to the whole grade, we figured, 'Hey, why not?' We're very grateful, that's for sure."