SHU Scholars Build Bicycles for Local Primary School Students

News Story:

On Saturday, Feb. 2, over a dozen Sacred Heart University students held a “Bike Build,” constructing bicycles for kids from Bridgeport’s John Winthrop Elementary School. The kits for the bicycles were donated by SHU’s GE Foundation Scholars Program.

The six children who received bicycles represented grades 3 through 8 and were chosen by the Winthrop faculty in recognition of academic achievement and citizenship within the school.

“It’s a part of our community service, and part of many aspects of our relationship with John Winthrop School,” said Virginia Stephens, Sacred Heart’s director of the Scholars Program. “We provide development workshops and tutor students, and this is another event to support and acknowledge outstanding children from their classrooms.”

For the SHU students, the Bike Build was an opportunity to help youngsters in the community while also learning leadership skills. Eight of the collegians were from the Scholars Program: seniors Daniel Thomas, Brice Victor, Milly James and Sarah Menard, and sophomore Roberto Castellon, all of Bridgeport, Conn.; sophomore Dionelis Pantoja of Bronx, N.Y.; junior Shane Robinson of Sayreville, N.J.; and junior Rachel Wagner of Queens, N.Y.

“I’m proud of our students that they really see the importance of supporting their community and serving as role models,” Stephens said.

Menard said the event was a rewarding experience. “You always remember the bike you get when you’re young,” she said. “And they’re going to remember not going to a store to buy it, but spending half a day helping to build it themselves.”

The Winthrop students who received bikes were Cynthia Brice (3rd grade), Octalyana Thaib (4th), Tyler DaSilva (5th), Tiffany Portela (6th), Jasmine Raghunandan (7th) and Joseph Perera (8th).

Each youngster went home with either a Diamondback 20-inch or Raleigh 24-inch bicycle, plus a lock, helmet and tire pump. “Both are very good bikes, and both are renowned for their safety in addition to just good quality,” said Kenya Rutland, a development consultant and trainer with KJR Consulting, which helped organize the event. “The building activity went very well. It was really nice having the kids involved, because they were helping to work on the bike that they were receiving — a lot of them had a lot of desire to have some input.”

Raghunandan said she was happy when she found out she’d earned a bicycle, once she realized that fact. “At first I thought is was a different Jasmine,” she said, “and then I found out it was me, which was pretty cool.” The 7th grader said she loves her new bike because, “It’s big, it’s fast, and the chain works,” and she planned to ride it before she even left the Fairfield campus. “I’m going to ride it to the car. And when we get home I’m going to ride it right away. We live in a dead end, so I can ride around in circles.”

Perera was also happy about his new wheels. “I’m excited I get to ride around with my friends,” said Perera, who has been admitted to Platt Technical High School for next fall. “I had just a starter bike before. I like this one because it will help me catch up to everyone else.”

Perera’s mother, Kelly Matos, shared his enthusiasm, though for more educational reasons. “This is a great incentive to get the kids motivated to learn teamwork and leadership, and to get exposure to a university and college students,” she said. “It’s great. And everybody was really nice — there are such nice people living in Bridgeport.”

Another Wintrop student also stood out, even among the half-dozen schoolmates who received bikes. Fourth-grader Brittney Scarpone was originally chosen to receive a bicycle, but turned it down because she’d just received a new one from her grandfather for Christmas. Her mother said that Brittney, on her own volition, decided to donate the bike to another student and wrote a letter to her principal to announce her decision. “I already have a bike at home, and this felt like the right thing to do,” Brittney said.

To honor Scarpone’s own charitable instinct, SHU honored her with a gift certificate to the Trumbull-based Performing Arts Center of Connecticut. “For a 4th grader to say ‘No, give it to someone else,’ I think that’s pretty special,” Stephens said. “And even though she didn’t get the bike, she still wanted to be a part of the building activity to help somebody else have one.”

The GE Scholars were joined by other volunteers, including three members of SHU’s Delta Phi Kappa sorority, two younger sons of a SHU administrator, and four Bridgeport high-school student volunteers from the Upward Bound Program at SHU.

The Bike Build was supervised by technician Trent Luby, a former employee of Northeast Bicycles in Stamford, Conn. Luby also performed a safety inspection of each completed unit.

The GE Foundation Scholars Program at Sacred Heart University is funded by the General Electric Foundation. The scholarship provides a $4,000 annual award to academically talented minority students. In addition to the financial support, students receive academic, social and career counseling, as well as a variety of enrichment and service activities to enhance their growth and university experience. This year, the GE Foundation Scholars Program supports 18 students.