Bobby McCree III

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The Emmett Scott Recreation Center in Rock Hill has started a free weekly program called Cycle to Success, which is intended to teach children how to handle a bicycle but also overcome life’s obstacles.

The first classes were held Sept. 14 for kids between the ages of 7 and 12 and will continue every Friday from 3-5 p.m. before expanding to weekends in the future.

Kids who participate will receive the bike they work on, which was provided to the program through donations.

Tom Bell, superintendent of the Rock Hill Outdoor Center, said during the first hour of the course kids will learn how to fix and maintain a bicycle and during the next hour they learn how to travel on the road.

“It is like the saying, ‘you give a man a fish and feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ This is the same for the kids, just with bikes,” said Ivan Dravigny, the cycling coordinator for Rock Hill’s department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT).

“Programs like this help build a structure in children’s lives,” said Rob Smith, a detective with the Rock Hill Police Department and instructor for the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA). “They give children goals, achievable goals with tangible results.”

The course is designed to demonstrate how a bicycle can symbolize a person going through life.

“If someone falls off his or her bike, should he or she give up? We are all there to assist them and keep riding. That’s life. Sometimes there will be challenges that make us fall, so we have to find a way to persevere, work together and keep moving forward,” said Bell.

Donna Smarr, as supervisor at the Emmett Scott Center, said she appreciates the mayor’s support of the program.

“It educates kids on how to mentally and physically put together a bike, which hones in on problem-solving skills; skills highly needed in the real world,” said Smarr.

According to Bell, the city conducted two census tracts, which are reports that analyze and evaluate the demographics of a region’s population, and discovered a need for literacy and mentorship in underserved areas.

“Many of the children at the center may not have the means to afford or ride a bike in a safe area,” said Bell. “This is one way we can teach them that hard work pays off, by them showing their dedication and commitment to the program.”

He said the PRT staff developed a bicycle club this past summer for the Emmett Scott Center and now plans to expand it this fall and partner with the Rock Hill Police Department to include the donated bikes.

Smarr said having mentors such as Smith and veteran cyclists like Bell and Dravigny ride with the kids through the city is encouraging.

“It brings a positive atmosphere because the children get to safely ride to places they’ve never been to, such as the Rock Hill BMX Supercross Track, and it gives them something new and refreshing to experience instead of just football, basketball and video games,” she said.

However, the kids are not the only ones who can benefit from the program.

“I’ve always felt like Officer Friendly when I’m on a bicycle,” Smith said. “When I’m in a patrol vehicle I am closed off from the environment around me. I am less approachable and it’s very easy to spend most of the day mostly talking to suspects and victims.”

Organizers are hopeful students from Winthrop University will be interested in helping with the program.

Bell said students can have a positive influence on the children by volunteering their time, riding with them or helping to raise money for equipment. Bell also said students can receive community service credit.

Rebecca Mastko, a 21-year-old senior majoring in digital information design, said kids often “look up” to older people and volunteering would “shine a light on both the students and the university.”

Nonetheless, the program will face some obstacles.

Bell said acquiring bikes would be a challenge the first year, because participants get to keep their bikes at the end of the program, which causes a need for more bicycles for the next group of kids that come into the course.

“By partnering with other agencies and organizations in the community, such as Winthrop, volunteering mentors and the mayor’s backing, it would make it easier to manage,” Bell said. “But it’s all for the children.”

Bell and Dravigny said the program may also inspire kids to go into competitive cycling or take up automotive classes in high school.

“It’s a great confidence booster for children when they learn a new skill and see the fruits of their labor; and they also understand that the bicycle is not just a toy, but is a means for transportation, which will benefit them for traveling to school and work,” said Bell.

The Emmett Scott Recreation Center is located at 801 Crawford Rd. and the program is set to run until Nov. 2. It will resume in the spring beginning Mar. 15 and end May 10.