CONTACT: Laura Bittner, 505-565-3002, lbittner
MEADOW LAKE – This summer 11 Meadow Lake youth enjoyed riding a new bicycle after the surprise Meadow Lake Kids Club end-of-school party in May.
Receiving the bike wasn’t a free ride. They had to earn it.
Meadow Lake Kids Club is an after-school program hosted by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Valencia County. For the past five years, the youth and their parents or guardians have met at the Meadow Lake Community Center every other week for a variety of fun and educational activities, including snacks provided by a local church.
“We’ve had a great partnership with the First United Methodist Church in Belen,” said Laura Bittner, NMSU’s Valencia County program director. “Besides making healthy snacks once a month for club meetings, the community outreach committee has provided a meal during the winter holidays for all of the youth participants and their families.”
The church members also give the youth an end-of-school year tote bag filled with books, games and art supplies to enjoy during the summer months.
“Each year we seem to take it up a notch,” said Elaine Wilson, mission committee chairperson for the First United Methodist Church in Belen. “This year we decided to give a bicycle to each of the club participants.”
Committee members got the idea from a Methodist Church in Texas where bicycles for youth was a Sunday school class project.
“We started talking about what a great thing it would be for these kids,” Wilson said. “One of the problems in impoverished areas is the lack of good nutrition and good exercise. So we felt the bicycles would be good exercise for these children.”
When Bittner was told about the church members’ idea, she decided it was important that the children were not just given a bicycle, but that they would have an opportunity to earn a bicycle.
“So I had a conversation with the youth telling them they had an opportunity to earn a prize of significant value,” Bittner said. “After explaining what ‘prize,’ ‘significant’ and ‘value’ means to the youth, they helped establish criteria that they felt could be accomplish in a five-month period of time in order to earn the prize.”
The youth had very grand ideas about the types of things they could do, but with Bittner’s guidance they narrowed the criteria to a very doable, but still challenging list of activities.
The expectations included having a 95 percent attendance record at school, reading five age-appropriate books, obtaining a letter of recommendation and support from a teacher or school administrator, attending six of seven kids club meetings, walking or running two laps around the walking path at the community center at each club meeting, participating in a cleanup activity at the community center, contributing two non-expired canned food items to a local food pantry, participating in a community service project for four people living in Meadow Lake and performing 10 acts of service for their family without being asked.
“The benefits of this program extend so much further than just kids earning a bicycle and a congregation gathering funds together to be able to purchase bicycles,” Bittner said. “While we were putting together food baskets to be delivered, one of our youth kept questioning why we were giving away food to people we didn’t know and why we needed to do this particular project. After delivering the food to the last home, she came to me and said, ‘I feel so good in my heart.’ That project could be a life-changing moment for her.”
Meanwhile the Methodist Church was raising funds to purchase the bicycles.
“Our congregation is small but very giving,” Wilson said. “We did better than what we ever dreamed. With the help of a grant from the United Methodist New Mexico Conference we raised over $4,000. We thought we’d probably make just enough to purchase bicycles. We not only bought the bicycles but we bought each child a bike helmet and each bike a utility basket, bike lock and a bright light.”
May 14 the big surprise was revealed to the youth. After a supper provided by the church members, the youth watched as a pickup truck pulled a trailer from in front of the bicycles and to reveal what a “prize of significant value” looks like – 11 shiny new bicycles.