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Local

Local bike group keeping Newton kids safe for 16 years

Third graders at Berg Elementary School were fitted for and received free bike helmets last week courtesy of Central Iowa Cyclists, a nonprofit organization based in Newton. Today and Friday, CIC will give away helmets to third graders at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.
Third graders at Berg Elementary School were fitted for and received free bike helmets last week courtesy of Central Iowa Cyclists, a nonprofit organization based in Newton. Today and Friday, CIC will give away helmets to third graders at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

While a lot of people want cars for their 16th birthdays, the Central Iowa Cyclists are content with having helped support another mode of transportation for 16 years thanks to the organization’s bike helmet giveaway.

Since 1998, CIC, a nonprofit organization, has donated a bike helmet to every third grader attending classes in the Newton Community School District.

“CIC raises the funds for the helmets, then visits each of the third grade classes to give instruction on the importance of wearing a helmet, the proper way to wear a helmet and general bike safety instructions,” CIC member Jill Barr said.

The major fundraiser CIC does is the CHILL-I Ride every March.

“This ride has progressed over the years. Before the (Iowa) Speedway, we rode to Reasnor and back for a total of about 22 miles,” Barr said. “For the last (few) years, we have been allowed to ride on the speedway, so our route goes to the speedway, onto the track and then out past the (Newton) Christian Conference Center, following the paved road back into town.

“We have about 80 to 100 riders each year. Beyond that, the community has been most generous in donating each year.”

Last week, the nonprofit organization visited Berg Elementary School and provided helmets to all five sections of third-grade on that campus. This week, CIC will be visiting Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to teach those students about bike safety and fitting them with a helmet.

“An entire generation of students has graduated high school having received one of these helmets in the third grade,” Barr said. “We do this because we believe in the importance of wearing a helmet to help protect against head injuries.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children between the ages of 5 and 14 and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rates of nonfatal bicycle-related injuries, accounting for almost 60 percent of all bicycle-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency departments.

In addition, CDC reports that in 2010, 800 bicyclists were killed and an estimated 515,000 sustained bicycle-related injuries that required emergency department care. Roughly half of these cyclists were children and adolescents under the age of 20. Annually, 26,000 of these bicycle-related injuries to children and adolescents are traumatic brain injuries treated in emergency departments.

Barr spoke about an experience this year at the Berg giveaway where one student initially denied wanting to receive a helmet.

“I call on him, and he said ‘Do I have to take a helmet?’” Barr said. “This is the first time I have ever had that response. I asked why he didn’t want one, and his reasons were well thought out. He didn’t like the way the helmet feels, and he’s fallen lots of times and never hit his head. Well, of course, I’m not going to force this gift upon anyone, but eventually he did, although somewhat reluctantly, accept the helmet.

“I hope he wears it as he should and never has an accident. Speaking from experience, I have fallen off my bike when not wearing a helmet and ended up in the hospital. I know firsthand the importance of wearing a helmet. Sometimes it’s hard to get others to understand, kind of like wearing a seatbelt.”

After 16 years of ensuring some of Newton’s youngest cyclists are safe, Barr is hopeful CIC can continue the tradition for future third graders.

“In a few years, if we can continue with this program, we will have some children whose parents also got helmets from us,” Barr said. “My son’s class was the first class to get a helmet. He now has a 1-year-old son who I hope will one day get a helmet from us.”

“I know that, thanks to the community who donates the funds and the club that has committed their time, putting a helmet on before getting on a bike will be second nature to all the community kids.”

To contribute to CIC’s annual bike giveaway, send a donation to Central Iowa Cyclists at P.O. Box 911 Newton, IA 50208, or drop one off the PJ’s Deli, located in downtown Newton.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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