#TogetherWeBike, a charity event held in Brea on Saturday, June 22, marks the beginning of a partnership between Together We Rise, a nationwide nonprofit for children in foster care, and Schwinn Bikes to get bicycles to the kids.
Each foster child started out by designing their own plate and was fitted for a helmet. Then there was a safety course. From there, they got their picture taken and were off to the races.
Matt Marano, a volunteer at TWR and recent UCI grad, said TWR stands out from standard foster care services due to their focus on giving children a better quality of life.
“TWR has a lot of programs like bike builds, giving suitcases instead of trash bags for their belongings, which all help to reclaim the dignity for the kids in these situations,” Marano said.
Gianna Dahlia, executive director of Together We Rise, said they have been dedicated to helping kids in foster care since its creation almost 11 years ago. She said TWR relies heavily on outside donations and contributions.
“In the past, we would accept whoever donate or give us the cheapest bikes, but it was inconsistent,” Dahlia said. “We believe in quality, we don’t give anything used ever, so the inconsistency of the different bikes we were using just wasn’t working.”
Milissa Rick, senior director of marketing for Schwinn, said TWR and Schwinn were a good fit in terms of their values and passion for getting more kids on bikes.
“For us, we all remember the feeling of confidence that comes with getting your first bike,” Rick said. “This is an opportunity to reach a lot of kids and make a positive impact in the lives of those in foster care by giving them the freedom and confidence of having their own bike.”
Dahlia said Schwinn reached out to them six months ago.
“This partnership with Schwinn is really important to us because not only are they giving us product consistently, they’re working with us hands-on providing us with a trained staff that knows how to build these specific bicycles,” Dahlia said.
Rick said this event marks the beginning of a partnership between TWR and Schwinn. This year, Schwinn plans to donate 500 bikes to TWR.
As someone who was adopted from foster care, Dahlia said she was inspired to give back to a cause that she very personally connected to.
“I didn’t have a hard story like most of the kids who enter, so I’m the exception, not the rule,” Dahlia said. “Kids in foster care suffer from PTSD at twice the rate of our US veterans.”
Dahlia said she wishes to continue to grow their services throughout Orange County and Los Angeles County due to the high rates of foster care in California. According to National KIDS COUNT, California had the highest population of children in foster care at over 54,000, as of 2016.
Marano said he didn’t realize the state of foster care in Orange County.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience to hear about these statistics and actually see the impact these events have on their lives,” Marano said.
Angie Zendejas, the mother of her adopted son Gavin, attended the event for the first time in hopes of helping her shy nine-year-old son get a better sense of normalcy.
“Bringing him here it allows him to get involved with other kids in his daily routine,” Zendejas said. “That’s what life is about. Not what you went through, but the future, what’s ahead of you.”
Rick said any individual can help by going to TWR’s website and signing up to sponsor a bike.
Joseph Beaird is an editorial intern for OC Weekly from Yorba Linda. He is a sophomore majoring in Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.