‘If I had a magic bike…..’
By Dixie Pettit
Second- and third-graders at Hanson Elementary School gathered in the cafeteria on Dec. 15 in hopes of winning a brand-new bike. Each of the youngsters had written an essay and were told six “winning essays” would be chosen and the writers of those essays would win a bicycle.
The super-secret surprise, however, was that each second- and third-grade child would be given a bike and helmet — courtesy of the La Jolla-based Bikes For Kids Foundation.
“Who wants to win a bike?” asked foundation co-founder Bill Pollakov.
“MEEEEEEE!” responded 158 students as their hands shot in the air.
“If I had a magic bike, where would it take me? What good things would I do?” was the essay topic. As Pollakov read the first essay, an excited Madison Heckelsberg could barely sit still. Pollakov read, “I will pick up trash at school and make the Earth clean…”
Heckelsberg bounded to the front to claim the first shiny, red bike.
With a huge smile and exuberant “WHO WANTS TO WIN A BIKE?” Pollakov pumped up the crowd of already excited youngsters. One by one each essay was read to the sea of anxious faces.
Second-grader Christopher Del Castillo dreams of a flying bike that could be used to rescue cats from trees. Ryan Szem’s bike would be “faster than a jet and a cheetah put together.” Jeremy Samson would help people cross the street and third-grader Victoria Martinez would like to ride her bike to Washington to meet the president. Jack Roseberry dreams of rescuing animals while third-grader Megan Denton would use a magic bike to provide “a lifetime supply of food to Africa,” and return each year to ensure the people wouldn’t run out.
As each essay was read aloud, children cheered for fortunate classmates, but the look of hope on some faces began to wane as the final essay was read.
That is when the morning’s surprise really began.
“Excuse me, Mr. Pollakov?” came a voice from the back of the room. Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Robert Graeff held another essay.
“I read each and every essay and I think this one is really good, too,” said Graeff. “By any chance, do you have just one more bike?”
And that bike was followed by yet another bike. As the students of the winning essays lined up at the front next to the bikes for photos, the rest of the unsuspecting children waited patiently.
“You know,” declared Shelagh Appleman, Hanson Elementary principal, “I’ve read all of the essays, too. They were all so good that I wish we could give every one of you a bike.”
“You know, when I was little, I wanted to win a bike, too. I wanted to meet the president AND help people AND have a bike give me ice cream and all those things. Today, EVERYBODY GETS A BIKE!”
The curtains behind the group flew open to reveal a stage stuffed with bikes — enough for every child in the second and third grade — including an extra bike for a boy who just started school that day.
A few students sat in stunned disbelief while the rest of the room erupted in screams, tears and a whole lot of jumping and hugging.
“Today was the best day of my life,” said second-grader Makalah Joaquin. “I started to cry.”
Classmate Dawson Pasalich agreed. “I was crying happy tears.”
As reality set in for the remaining 151 students, even parents and teachers stopped trying to fight back the tears. Not a single child would be left out.
According to Appleman, the school staff was not even told about the top-secret giveaway until it became apparent it would be necessary. “We didn’t want any leaks to get back to the kids or the families.”
Originally, Appleman didn’t plan on telling the teachers at all.
“We wanted it to be a total surprise — but then I was told the boxes would be here on Saturday.”
“Boxes? I didn’t know we had to assemble them!” said Appleman.
So at a Thursday staff meeting, Appleman recruited volunteers to come in on Saturday to assemble nearly 170 bikes. The 41 volunteers arrived at 8 a.m., assembling 19 bikes at a time. The bikes were finished in just two hours.
Kirk’s Bike Shop owner Kirk Newell and manager Clark Cathcart completed the safety checks by 1 p.m.
“Kirk was unbelievable,” Appleman said of the Ramona businessowner. “When he heard what we were going to do for the kids over here, he jumped at the chance to help us. He and Clark made sure we got the bikes put together correctly, brought over tools and equipment, and then made sure all the bikes were safe. We can’t thank him enough.”
The generous giveaway is sponsored by William “Bill” and Debbie Pollakov, founders of the Bikes For Kids Foundation. The Poway couple started the foundation more than a decade ago to give back to the community. The charity has since given away more than 23,000 bikes in seven cities across the nation. Volunteers and the “collective outpouring of generosity” allows the foundation to put 100 percent of monies received directly to the purchase of bikes and helmets.
“People can give at any level, whether that is a few dollars, a big check, building bikes or helping children ride them,” said Debbie Pollakov.
The Pollakovs’ gesture of generosity had a trickle-down effect to at least one of Hanson Elementary third-graders. Appleman was surprised when Jacob Macias wanted to pay-it-forward and gave his bike back.
According to Appleman, Macias heard of a kindergarten boy who “recently became homeless.” Macias asked Appleman to give the new bike to the other boy instead because, he told her, “I want to be able to give away a bike and make another kid feel like Mr. Bill made us feel.”
Bikes for Kids Foundation is a charitable organization. Donations are fully tax deductible. To help support the charity or for more information, call or write the Bikes for Kids Foundation of San Diego, 4275 Executive Square Suite 400, La Jolla CA 92037 • Phone: 858-202-230. One may also visit the website bikesforkidsfoundation.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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