Yazmin Ramos, a South Side resident, smiles proudly at her two daughters, ages 5 and 10, as they clutch the handlebars of their matching new bicycles. Wearing a black shiny helmet, Alejandro Gespaida, 10, cruises down a path in Kosciuszko Park on his new bike. Rakel Ruida, 11, watches as her new bike receives a tune-up.

Rakel, Alejandro and the Ramos sisters were among more than 600 children and adults who received bicycles, helmets and bike locks at the Sixteenth Street Health Centers Bike Day, on a recent Saturday at Kosciuszko Park on West Lincoln Avenue and 9th Street.

“The Sixteenth Street Bike Day brings together residents from the South Side community. It’s a huge community builder and an amazing opportunity for kids to receive free bikes and stay active,” said India McCanse, a volunteer at the event, which also offered bike tune-ups, bike parades for children and adults, Zumba and salsa dancing and kids’ games.

Participants also could take advantage of free safe car-seat instruction, bike safety education and demonstrations from WIC nutritionists.

Others participating in Sixteenth Street Bike Day included Wheel and Sprocket, Dream Bikes, Ben’s Cycle, Bublr Bikes, Bicycle Benefits, Boys & Girls Clubs, Urban Ecology Center, Bike Federation of Wisconsin, Penfield Children’s Center, El Rey Market, Pete’s Fruit Market and the Milwaukee Police Department.

Celina Ramos, Ramos’ 10-year-old daughter, said, “I’m really happy with my new bike. My old one was falling apart but I can’t wait to ride this one around this summer.”

Gabriella Mariano, a volunteer from the Boys and Girls Clubs, said, “I think this event is a great opportunity for kids to receive bikes. It’s great for the adults, too, as they get to interact with others from their community.” She noted that volunteers also were encouraging healthy food and physical activity.

Adelita Russo, a volunteer helping with the healthy snacks food stand, said she was pleased to see community residents out and about. Russo helped out last year when the event was held across the street from the health center. “I’m glad the location switched to Kosciuszko Park because there’s more space here to accommodate everyone.”

Russo noted that she was glad to see that the event attracted residents from multiple communities. “Last year, we had a predominantly Latin American subsection of the community present,” she noted.

According to Tatiana Maida, manager of the healthy choices program at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, “This event started because we were all trying to think of a way to encourage safer bike-riding practices on the South Side.” In addition to free bikes, attendees received free bike locks and helmets.

Maida added that if adults and children are getting outside and being more physically active, it will improve safety in the neighborhood.

Ramos said she didn’t originally want to come to the event because she was busy volunteering at The Basilica of St. Josaphat and had to work that evening. “I’m really glad my girls brought me. I can’t afford new bikes for both of them so it’s nice that this event can provide them.”

Donna Sarkar

Donna Sarkar

Originally published on the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service as Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers offers free bicycles on South Side