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Changing Lives - One bike at a time!
Elves & More is dedicated to "changing lives--one bike at a time!" We focus on at-risk children living in Greater Houston, an eight-county area in which 330,000 children live in poverty.
A few years ago, we made an important discovery. We learned that by giving bicycles to impoverished children we could dramatically change their lives by helping them stay in school and out of trouble while improving their health.
How do bicycles do these things?
First, working with school administrators, bicycles are used as incentives for children to achieve.
· To earn a bicycle, a child must first enter into a contract with his or her teacher or school.
· That contract requires each child to meet at least one of five criteria: 1) attend school regularly, and be on time, 2) behave well in class, 3) attend tutoring classes or Saturday school where necessary, 4) improve their grades in one or more areas or 5) whatever else the teacher believes a particular child needs to improve upon.
· The specific target area and level of performance required by each child is established by the teacher or school counselor, agreed upon by the student, and approved by the child's parent(s).
· Once the teacher determines that a child has met the terms of the Contract, the child is rewarded with a new bicycle.
Second, once a child earns a bicycle, that child's life options expand dramatically.
· Most impoverished children spend most of their time "on foot." Other than to school, they go only to those places they can reach by walking.
o Many families don't have cars at all. Those who do must often use them to work long hours, sometimes at more than one low-paying job.
o With no transportation, children are unable to stay for after-school programs once the buses stop running.
o Most live too far away to be able to walk to scout meetings, attend sports practice, join tutoring classes or take advantage of community centers.
o That leaves children in their neighborhoods almost all the time; unfortunately, most of those neighborhoods are plagued by drugs and crime and, there, at-risk children come into daily contact with too many "influencers" of the wrong kind.
· With a bike, all that can change: bicycles give children the two wheels they need to get out of the neighborhood and go to places where caring adults can become their mentors and role models.
Third, by getting out of their neighborhoods and into mentored after-school programs, children are more likely to stay in school and stay out of trouble:
· Mentors encourage children to do their best.
· Mentors support children when they are discouraged.
· Mentors hold children accountable for their choices and actions.
· Mentors teach children important values and crucial life skills.
· All this helps children stay in school and stay out of trouble.
Using bicycles as tools, Elves & More helps children stay in school all the way to graduation, and helps children stay out of harm's way along their journey.
- Our work helps reduce the dropout rate and improves the likelihood that children will graduate high school in four years with better grades than they now attain. For some, this can improve the prospects for higher education.
- At the same time, our work reduces the likelihood that children will waste their lives through drugs and crime, and the other ills that perpetuate poverty.
- Finally, by riding their bicycles regularly, children's health and fitness improve, providing a direct assault on chronic health problems such as childhood obesity which are prevalent among at-risk youth.
Bicycles are powerful instruments of change. They empower children and they enable the precious few mentors and other change agents in each community to leverage their work across many more children.
Bicycles change lives!
- Tanya Saenz
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