Loudoun Co. schools helping pair bikes with students who need them most

Bikes were recently distributed to students in Loudoun County at Leesburg Elementary School.(Courtesy Loudoun County Public Schools)

What started as a Loudoun County bike donation campaign has evolved into a program that gives bicycles to students in the Virginia suburb who need them the most.

The county’s bike donation program started in 2019, according to Safe Routes to School coordinator Janice Jennings. But it’s evolved, she said, “after we decided that it would be a great initiative if we could give bikes to students in underprivileged families.”

With help from community groups and school leaders, the group has been able to do just that.

It has helped about 70 students per year in the last two years, and suspect hundreds of students have benefited from the bike donation program.

“We focus on Title I schools and Title I-eligible schools for kids that may otherwise not be able to have access to a bike,” said Kelly Smit, another Safe Routes to School coordinator with the school division. “Most recently, we had kids that wouldn’t be able to get to summer programs, or we had high school kids who couldn’t get to work because they didn’t have any type of transportation.”

The bike donation drives are run through Leesburg’s Maverick Bikes, which Smit said refurbishes them to near-new condition. Doug Landau, a personal injury lawyer, donates helmets for the students, and attends the distribution to make sure they fit properly. Because of a Virginia Department of Transportation QuickStart grant, students also get a bike lock and bike light.

Meanwhile, the group Bike Loudoun helps by ensuring the bikes are setup properly and working with students who may not already know how to ride a bike. Jennings said they set up an obstacle course for students to practice on at local distribution events.

“So many kids in the summer are so isolated because they have no way to get to community events or to meet up with friends at parks or pools,” Smit said.

The district tries to offer bikes to students at four schools each year, usually elementary schools and then either a middle or high school, Jennings said. Recently, students at Leesburg Elementary and Sterling Middle got new bikes.

Typically, they work with two schools before winter break in December and then two others in May. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office donated four bikes for the most recent distribution.

The family liaison at the school usually selects the students who would benefit most from the bikes, Smit said.

Some recent beneficiaries who stand out, Smit and Jennings told WTOP, include students whose families lived in temporary shelters at the time and a student who has cancer.

“This is another opportunity for students to bike to school, but bike to school safely, and also have the equipment they need — the lights, locks and bells to navigate their community,” Jennings said.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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