Valley Voices

Tony Hoffman: Freewheel Project changes lives for teens

Tony Hoffman with the van donated by Darius Assemi and Granville Homes.
Tony Hoffman with the van donated by Darius Assemi and Granville Homes. Freewheel Project

Last year I wrote to the community on behalf of the Freewheel Project about our need for a van to support our BMX action sports after-school program, dubbed BARS (Behavioral and Academic Restoration through Action Sports).

Last year was our first year running the intensive academic and leadership program at Sequoia Middle School. I’ve believed for many years that a program of this type would be widely popular and successful with students.

Darius Assemi and Granville Homes responded graciously to my letter put out by The Bee and bought us a van for BARS. This van enabled us to take 20 students from Sequoia Middle School to the back of Mosqueda Park, where the largest cement all-BMX park in the United States exists.

The van was more than just transportation for students. It was an integral part of changing the academic performance and well-being of 20 students who reside in one of the toughest areas in Fresno County.

We had students share with us about their need to hide food in the home so that other family members wouldn’t steal it. We listened to students tell us about their family members who are struggling with substance abuse or spending time in and out of prison.

One student, who has become a gem of what the BARS program is capable of, had a 0.7 GPA when he started BARS. Yes, you read that right, a 0.7 GPA. This student was failing every class he was in. After speaking with the principal, we found out that he was among the five worst students on the campus.

We were told that he was engaged in zero extracurricular school activities and struggled with his behavior. I pulled this student aside one day at the BMX park during the riding portion of the program. I confronted him about his grades, asked him to work with me and let the Freewheel Project help him with his schoolwork.

I told the young man, “Let’s just start with one class and build from there.” I honestly expected this young man to walk away from the program that day and never come back. What ended up really happening I would never have anticipated.

Over the course of six months – January to June, which is the running time of BARS – we watched a student begin to work on his grades one class at a time. English was the biggest struggle for him. I still remember the smile on his face when he came into the class with the A grade he had received an English test he had taken shortly after beginning to invest in his education with our help.

He never missed a day of our program, and by the time we graduated him from our program, this young man had a 2.7 GPA. He left our program with a brand-new $500 Haro BMX bike, lock, helmet and a bank account with the Union Bank of California for the $50 he earned through the program.

To top it off, he has come back this year in 2016 as a high school student mentoring our young new students in the BARS program.

We’re holding our biggest annual fundraising dinner Saturday at the Dante Club. Its proceeds support programs like BARS that are making an incredible impact on the young men and women who are the future of our community. I would like to invite anyone who loves making a difference in his or her community – and, of course, eating tacos – to join us for a night of fun! For more information on buying tickets, please visit freewheelproject.org or call Karen at 559-392-8058.

Tony Hoffman is founder of the Freewheel Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Clovis.

Freewheel Project Taco Fiesta Night

When: 6 p.m., Saturday, March 5

Where: Dante Club, 6176 N. Grantland Ave., Fresno

Tickets: $35 each, 559-392-8058

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