FLINT, Mich. (AP) — For Angela Stamps, riding her bicycle around the city of Flint isn't just a fun activity — it's a way of life.
Stamps hopes to pass that mentality along to Flint youth with The Berston Bicycle Club Project, a program designed to teach kids how to use bicycles as a form of transportation, encourage healthy living and teach bicycle safety.
At the end of the nine-week course, each participant receives a new a bike, helmet, bike bag and reflective vest, among other things, and all for free.
"That's the beautiful thing about it. Everything is free," Stamps, 42, of Flint, told The Flint Journal (http://bit.ly/VVjxjq). "I'm just trying to show them that they can get around anywhere in the city or outside on a bicycle. And we have loads of fun."
Stamps finds used bikes for the program to teach to the kids, ages 11 to 18, how to properly ride a bike and shows them different parts of the city.
After one year completed, Stamps has some goals for the program this year, which starts back up in May. Between now and then, she hopes to go from 15 to 30 used bikes, which are used during the program for lessons and riding.
She wants to bring more awareness to the issue of childhood obesity and healthy living, which will hopefully attract more interest in the bicycle club.
The bicycle club partners with the Crim Fitness Foundation and Safe and Active Genesee for Everyone (SAGE) and is funded through the Ruth Mott Foundation with a $27,000 grant.
Lauren Holaly-Zembo, active living director for the Crim Fitness Foundation, said Stamps' program is the only bicycle club that she knows of in the city of Flint.
"Angela is just really passionate about bicycling and getting kids to be physically active. We are hoping they use it for transportation. If kids use it that way, they are going to get their exercise in for the day," Holaly-Zembo said. "I think there is a lack of recreational activities for the kids in the city of Flint. This is something that can get them involved. I definitely think it's something that's needed."
The program focuses on the growing problem of childhood obesity, she said. It helps teach the participants lessons, like healthy eating and living, that hopefully they can carry on throughout their lives, Holaly-Zembo said.
It also teaches them directions and other skills while riding. The program always starts at the Berston Field House, where the youth are first given a short lesson and adjust their bikes and take them out for a ride.
"I'm hoping that, whether they like bicycling or not, they will continue on with an active lifestyle," Holaly-Zembo. "We want to see more kids involved, larger classes."
Stamps grew up in Flint but lived in Los Angeles from 1993 to 2010. In 2006, she lost her vehicle and was forced to walk or take a bus everywhere, until someone gave her a bike.
It was that bicycling lifestyle that she wanted to teach to youth in Flint.
"I've been riding ever since then," Stamps said. "This is something that if you pour it into your life, you can use it for the rest of your life."
Stamps has a bigger goal of opening a recreational center for the city of Flint within the next two years, she said. But right now, the bicycle club is her main focus.
Qudsiyyah Meeks, 13, of Flint participated in the program last year and said it was a great experience. She learned information on bicycle safety she didn't know before and saw different parts of the Flint River Trail that she had never been to before, she said.
"I like to learn new things," Qudsiyyah said. "Even though I've lived in Flint most of my life I've never seen some of the places we had been. It was nice."
The program runs for nine weeks at a time, and participants ride three days a week, although they are only required to ride two of the days to complete the program.
Information from: The Flint Journal, http://www.mlive.com/flint