The annual Bike Clinic is back this year. The completely free community-wide event offers free minor bike repairs – among many other things – to thousands of area kids.
The registration lines the morning of the event wind deep throughout four parks in Billings as kids hope to get a jump on summer and ride out of there on a working bicycle.
“It’s grown from our one location to four this year,” Julie Rodda said. Ms. Rodda, along with her husband, Fred, are organizers of the eighth annual Billings Community Bike Clinic from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 16. “We are very excited.”
What began in 2005 as a grassroots effort of volunteers, buoyed by the assistance and support of prominent local business and foundation sponsorships, has blossomed into a city-wide event, and this year will serve an estimated 2,000 youngsters.
The Billings Community Bike Clinic also offers a day of activities including relay races and various games for children; sidewalk chalk-art; inflatables; and a free lunch for all in attendance.
It costs an average of $30 per child served, factoring in two gel-filled inner tubes, miscellaneous parts, helmet, repair kit, games and lunch. This year, coordinators are raising $30,000 for the event, in hopes of a significant return on their investment, but not of the financial sort.
“Children learn lasting skills for repairing their flat tires, which empowers them to be more responsible bike owners, and instills pride of ownership,” Ms. Rodda said. “Attendees enjoy a greater sense of community, as they spend the day with neighbors in a fun, relaxed environment, playing games and sharing lunch. This is an event where the basic fabric of society — neighborhood relations — can be seen in a truly positive light.”
Throughout the event, a training class is available for parents and kids over the age of 8 to learn how to make basic repairs at home. At the end of the class, participants walk out with a small set of simple tools to make those repairs.
Most of those benefitting from the Bike Clinic have been of the low-income demographic, but that has evolved over the years.
“The Bike Clinic is not merely focused on low-income youth anymore,” Ms. Rodda pointed out. “It really is about communities coming together for the day to address a need.”
Ms. Rodda believes it is important to note that while various bike events around the city perform “check-ups” on bikes and offer repair needs, the Bike Clinic actually performs minor repairs, as most of the children or families seeking assistance at the Bike Clinic lack the funds to take the bike to a repair shop.
In addition, in advocating safety, helmets will be fitted and handed out, again for free, to those in need, while supplies last. Over 300 helmets were handed out at last year’s event by St. Vincent Hospital Trauma Outreach and Billings Clinic.
The Billings Police Department will also be on hand, registering bicycles with identification tags so that they might be returned in the event of theft.
Over the years, the Roddas have encountered thousands of people in need and heard a variety of stories that continue to drive the continued effort to enable kids and parents to take a proactive approach to getting the most of their summer, and in turn, thriving as a community.
“A lot of single moms have never had anyone take the time to show them how to fix a flat tire on their child’s bike,” Ms. Rodda said. “We’ve heard many grateful responses once they’ve taken our short class - things like, ‘I didn’t know how easy this was,’ or ‘I didn’t have any tools at my house, but now I do. Now my kids won’t have to sit on the porch while their friends ride past on the street this summer,’ as we give each class participant a small repair kit to take home with them.”
The stories the kids bring to the volunteers can be truly heartbreaking.
“Our first year we had a little 7-year-old girl come with a bike frame and only the seat and chain hanging off of it – not even wheels,” Ms. Rodda recalled. “She asked if we could fix it. She sat for hours. No parent in sight. We tried several times to provide a trade for her but she wouldn’t have it. By the end of the day, we had enough parts from other broken bikes to put wheels on it, new tires, tubes and a bonus of some streamers from another donated bike. She was ecstatic. When we found out the back-story, it broke our hearts but encouraged us to continue our efforts: the reason she would not trade in the bike was because it was the last present she had from her dad, who was in prison.”
Ms. Rodda hopes that even though this event is attended primarily by children of single parents who lack the resources, ability or knowledge of how to maintain a bicycle with a few simple repairs, with the tools and the class, each parent or child who participates will ride away with something much more important: awareness.
“As a very small church with many of our church members receiving some form of disability income,” Ms. Rodda said of her organization, Living Water Church on State Avenue, “our group has first-hand knowledge of poverty’s obstacles, yet still desire to help others. This event has provided a wonderful opportunity to engage our larger community to help us to help others. This has helped make the South Billings Community as well as downtown blighted areas and low-income areas of Billings Heights’ neighborhoods a better place to live.”
The Billings Community Bike Clinic will be at Optimist Park on Billings’ South Side hosted by Living Water; North Park hosted by First Christian Church; Lutheran Park (just behind City Church on Lake Elmo Drive and Wicks Lane) hosted by City Church; and Gorham Park on the West End, hosted by Hope Church.
“Who said denominations couldn’t work together?” Ms. Rodda asked.
She does want to point out, however, that although this clinic is “hosted” by local faith-based organizations, “its purpose is not to promote religion, but rather neighborhood relations,” she said. “It is truly a community event with volunteers gathered from across the city; is non-discriminatory in nature and is offered free to all residents regardless of gender, age, race, religion or physical abilities.”
In addition to the churches, area businesses factor in greatly to the success of the Bike Clinic, among them PPL Montana, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Billings Ace Hardware Stores, First Interstate Bank Centennial Youth Fund, The Breakfast Optimist Club, and Walmart Stores, each having donated at least $1,000 toward the Bike Clinic.
The Bike Clinic relies heavily on volunteerism. Coordinators are hoping to sign up 300 or more for the event.
To volunteer, visit BillingsBikeClinic.com or phone Pastor Fred, who is the multi-site coordinator, at 670-7975.
Volunteers are needed for repair crew, kids/family games and activities; food; set-up; and park cleanup. Volunteer training is provided before the event for those interested in helping.