Four years ago I set out to start an organization called the Freewheel Project that developed healthy life choices in youths through action sports. It made sense to start with BMX, because at the time I was an Elite pro BMX racer who traveled the country racing on the pro tour.
When I started the Freewheel Project most of our publicity was because of my personal story of falling to the wayside and coming back to success. In May, I will have eight years of sobriety — six of those years after paroling from the California prison system at age 25.
This is usually where I go into more detail about my own struggles and talk about about why my organization began, but I’m reaching a point in my life where my story and passion is not as important as the lives my organization is working with.
The Freewheel Project is perhaps best known for its $10 BMX summer camp at Woodward Park that attracts more than 150 youths yearly. The camp teaches kids leadership skills, personal-finance basics, substance-abuse education, and awards 100 graduates a bike valued at $350. This program is one of a kind and an incredible experience, but its limitations have always left the Freewheel Project desiring to leave a greater impact in our community.
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Recently, we partnered with Sequoia Middle School in southeast Fresno to pilot our BARS program (Behavioral and Academic Restoration through action Sports). We use the Mosqueda Community Center’s concrete BMX facility as the centerpiece of attraction for students. We have 17 kids involved. As we’ve continued to meet and get to know these kids, our hearts have grown compassionately toward them.
With their uncertain futures, it is important to get them on the right path. Some people may say we are cursed, but I am going to say we are blessed when the principal tells us some of our students are in the worst academic condition possible. Ninety percent of our kids are failing at least two classes and a few of them are failing every class they have. We designed a program that would reach students in this very situation and are passionate about turning negative performances around.
Each day before we meet, we have academic hour, where students work on their homework assignments and are tutored by volunteers of Sequoia Middle School. The kids are going through leadership courses, a personal finance course led by Union Bank and substance-abuse-awareness education.
The ultimate goal for our kids is to graduate in June and receive their own Haro freestyle BMX bike and bank account with Union Bank. When we finish with class, the students are shuttled to Mosqueda — thanks to the Boys & Girls Club — and they get to ride bikes for the remaining time.
Two weeks ago, I sat down with a student who is in the eighth grade and failing every class. He loves riding the bike and has yet to miss a day. I asked him what it would take to get his grades up. Since our talk, we’ve begun a process of completing assignments during homework hour. The reality is, if this young man fails eighth grade, he will most likely become another dropout statistic. I believe the Freewheel Project will change that.
The beginning of this program has already seen tremendous engagement with students, but it hasn’t been without limitations. The Freewheel Project has 100 loaner BMX bikes, but we can only get 10 on site because our only form of transportation is my old ’89 Ford pickup. We have a trailer that has been donated, but our pickup is not able to pull it. In addition, most of the time, our students walk home because we don’t have the means to put these kids into a vehicle and see them home safely.
What I need is for the community to come together like never before. We need a van for this program to be sustainable and work efficiently day to day, year to year. A van will allow us to tow the trailer that has been donated, pick up the students and drop them off safely and even take them on trips when funds allow. Ultimately, a van would allows the Freewheel Project to work with the students who most people would say are hopeless.
I know from being that kid once, they are anything but hopeless. They are miracles who just need a little bit of guidance from the right people.