- Associated Press - Monday, January 8, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A bicycle can be a tool for exercise, mental health, transportation, bonding or just plain fun.

Riding around with her two siblings and parents excited sixth-grader Jazlynn Coleman the most when she got her purple and silver mountain bike a year ago.

She gets the mail. She takes her little sister to the nearby park as often as she can. She visits and rides with friends, taking turns with those who don’t have a bike. Jazlynn also lent it to her neighbors so they could ride to the grocery store when their car broke down.

“I’m super glad I got it,” she said proudly. “I only trust certain people on it, because I wouldn’t want someone to crash and break it.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Jazlynn received her bike at Barker Middle School in Bentonville through an organization called Pedal It Forward NWA. This holiday season the group gave 42 more to some of her classmates and many more to other children whose families couldn’t afford a bike.

Barker counselor Marisa Snow said physical activity is important for children’s health and their learning.

“Bicycling can also be a good outlet emotionally. Maybe you have something going on at home and you just need a mental break,” Snow said. “It also helps them socially and can be their way of getting places.”

A few passionate cyclists who believed “every kid needs a bike” started Pedal It Forward in December 2014, said David Tovey, co-founder and board member.

“The catalyst was having a conversation with another cyclist around the holidays. We were thankful for our health and the fact that we could ride and afford just about any bike we wanted,” Tovey said. “One thing led to another, and it seemed like a really good cause to give other people the benefit of cycling.”

They began asking around for used bikes they could fix up to be as good and shiny as new and relied mostly on schools or other organizations to decide who needed them. The organization has repaired and given away around 1,800 bikes and helmets.

Northwest Arkansas is a great place for an organization like this, with all the trails and a growing interest in competitive school cyclist teams, board member Elaine McCool said.

Many of the bikes are still donated used, though the group buys some with slight defects at a reduced rate from places such as Wal-Mart. Some schools and other organizations use the bikes as incentives where students earn them through service or good behavior. Pedal It Forward has no minimum qualifications.

“We try to stay focused on what we do and do it well. We make sure bikes are safe and something you would really be proud to ride,” McCool said.

Tovey and a handful of other volunteers work mostly Monday nights and Saturdays at their Bentonville warehouse and workshop, referencing the age, weight, height, gender and any special requests from each potential recipient to build the perfect match.

Tovey strapped on a helmet, on a recent Tuesday, and went out on the gravel parking lot to test a little pink bike covered in stars he had been working on. He then added it to a neat row in a room filled with bikes of every type and size.

The original idea of giving to children has expanded to include people of all ages. Pedal it Forward has worked with more than 60 organizations across Northwest Arkansas and as far as Fort Smith and Missouri, McCool said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has become one of the main organizations her group works with, she said.

Mindi Littleton, recovery coordinator at the Veterans Health Care Center of the Ozarks, said donated bikes have gone to support veterans as a means of transportation, exercise and socialization.

Pedal It Forward will soon begin renovations on a downtown Rogers building, with help from the city and its youth center, for a second location.

McCool said she hopes to begin a mentorship program for children and classes specifically geared to get girls and women more involved in cycling.


Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com

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