Several organizations visited the Garden Square apartment complex on Saturday afternoon to make children aware of the importance of bicycle safety.
Blessed Innovation Safety, a non-profit organization founded by Kokomo that teaches children about road safety, hosted the event.
In a phone call with the Tribune, founders Ernesto and Rinesha Zayas explained that BI stands for “Blessed Innovation” in their nonprofit’s name.
“We wanted to bless the youth by bringing about change,” added Rinesha Zayas.
Indiana University Health Arnett set up a table to hand out bike helmets.
Teresa Williams, a registered nurse and trauma care coordinator at IU Health, explained why the helmets were important. If motorcyclists get into an accident, there’s a chance they could be injured, she said.
That damage can range from a concussion to a traumatic brain injury with consequences ranging from lifelong headaches to death.
The helmets help prevent those injuries. Williams also stressed the importance of paying attention while cycling.
After the children arrived, they were encouraged to enter a raffle for a free bicycle before collecting their helmets.
The children were then divided into age groups.
Michael Shelton, a BI Safety volunteer visiting Kokomo from St. Louis, worked with middle and high school students.
“We’re really just trying to be a blessing to the neighborhood and to these kids,” Shelton said. “It’s just a blessing to see them smile and give them a little bit of hope.”
He started by asking the group what they already knew about bicycle safety. Some of the younger children in the group were excited to show how much they already knew, sharing several tips, such as the importance of wearing a helmet and reflector when cycling at night.
Some of the older kids said they refused to wear helmets. Shelton kindly encouraged them to bring one of the free helmets anyway in case they ever change their mind.
He also encouraged them to install horns or chimes on their bicycles.
“I know you don’t want that, it’s not cool,” Shelton told the kids. “But it’s important.”
Nearby, his wife Monica Shelton worked with the elementary students.
The younger group was a bit more involved in the safety discussion, listening intently as Shelton explained why it was important to inspect their bikes regularly.
The kids also practiced hand turn signals, extending their arms to mimic Shelton.
At the end of the lesson, Shelton walked past the line and asked the children what they learned from the event. When they had an answer, she tossed them a bag of candy.
Finally it was time to raffle the 11 bikes donated by BI Safety, the United Auto Workers Local 685, Connect the Hearts, Target, Meijer and Walmart. If one of the bikes was too small, Walmart representatives told the kids they could trade it for one that suited them better.
Dream Pendergrass was among the group of older children who received a free bicycle.
The eighth grader said he learned a bit from the event. In particular how he should protect himself and which hand gestures he should use when switching on his bicycle.
“It was fun,” Pendergrass said.
Although the founders recently moved to Houston, Texas, the couple explained that they still want to support Howard County kids.
“Our goal is just to continue to impact youth in any way we can,” said Rinesha Zayas.
Ernesto Zayas added: “That’s our home base and that’s where we’ll keep it.”
Most of their past events have been held at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, Rinesha Zayas said. Children from the Garden Square apartments were regular guests at the event.
When asked if they would be interested in hosting an event at Garden Square, they couldn’t refuse.
“It was an honor for us to serve them,” said Rinesha Zayas.
Helen Williams, one of the volunteers at the event, agreed.
“It’s great for the kids to learn about safety,” Williams said.