"Bike lady" brings smiles in her van

Khatsini Simani (right) and co worker Michele Finkelstein (left), teach a group of students at Brier Terrace Middle School how to fix a flat. Thanks to your support, more kids than ever are learning the joy of bicycling. Our vans transport our fleet of more than 500 bikes to kids programs throughout the region, but this year, our beloved "party van" died. We need your help.

“Hey! Are you the bike lady?” A student at Hawthorne Elementary twirls around in the hallway and points their finger directly at my face.

I stop mid-step, chuckling and caught off guard. “Yes, I am.”

The student smiles and rejoins their class’ line. I am mid-way to the gymnasium, about to give a brief presentation on helmet safety at a Hawthorne Elementary assembly. In what seems like a few moments later, the assembly has begun and my eyes are grazing over a sea of giddy students.

“Hello everyone, my name is Khatsini… I’m visiting from the Cascade Bicycle Club… who here remembers me from P.E. class?”

Many hands appear in the air. As I look around, I begin to recognize the faces beneath them. Several of the third-fourth graders at the Hawthorne assembly had just finished their three-week Basics of Bicycling unit in P.E. class and were benefitting from this helmet safety talk I gave – a review for those who had learned how to fit their helmets during their Basics of Bicycling unit.

I continue with my presentation. “When fitting your helmet, it is important to remember the “Eyes, Ears and Mouth” rule...”

As a part of a Safe Routes to School program this past year, I was able to visit Hawthorne elementary several times, assisting with a three-week bike safety program for third, fourth and fifth graders, Bike to School Month activities, and presentations such as the helmet safety talk I was giving at the assembly.

Although the Basics of Bicycling program was only three weeks long, a significant impact was made. Many students learned important traffic safety and bike handling skills. Some learned to ride for the first time. Others had access to a bike and a space to ride where there wasn’t at home.

The relationship that was built between the teachers and staff at Hawthorne Elementary and Cascade staff during the Safe Routes to School program was built upon trust, transparency and an ability to follow through on our commitments. In order for me to effectively deliver program work, I learned that it was important for me to have access to resources – including a reliable vehicle – and a flexible and responsive schedule. Throughout the Safe Routes to School program I used the van to transport Bike to School prizes and Basics of Bicycling supplies. I also used the van for transportation to the school (which was several miles across town) to assist with teaching several classes.

But this year, our beloved “party van” died.

You may have seen me driving around in the van, formerly known as the party van. Emblazoned with cartoons of kids on bikes, the “party van” as it came to be called, always brought smiles when we drove up to a school. Though it served us well these past several years, it had become rickety and unsafe and fixing it would cost more than replacing it with a new van.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

In addition to bike transport for the Major Taylor Project programs, we also used the Cascade van to support our Basics of Bicycling program. On Fridays, we typically deliver fleets of 30 bikes to four elementary schools using one van and two trailers. We visit schools in the Seattle, Lake Washington, Edmonds and Highline School districts and leave the bikes for the three-week duration of the program before picking them up again on a later Friday.

Currently, we are at capacity with our trailers and bikes in the Seattle School District, as the demand for the bikes outweighs our ability to serve all interested schools. However, we do the best with the resources that we have, moving a total of about 300 bikes per year.

And we plan to double the number of kids we reach with our education programs in the coming years.

We need to raise $40,000 to purchase two slightly used vans in the coming year to make our work possible.

Please consider a donation to the Bike vans for kids campaign and help us raise $40,000 by March 2015. Thanks to a generous challenge grant from the Scan|Design Foundation all gifts up to $5,000 will be matched.