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Flint, MI—Angela Stamps uses her bike for everything.
She uses it to do laundry, get groceries, and go to community meetings. She rides her bike out of town, in the rain, and in the winter.
In a city with an area of just about 34 square miles, Stamps thinks there should be more people using bicycles as a means of transportation, and she’s on a mission to inspire Flint residents to do just that—starting with the kids.
Stamps started the Berston Bicycle Club Project back in 2012. It’s a free, nine-week program for Flint youth ages 10 to 18 to learn about bicycle safety, navigating, making decisions, and healthy living. After completing the program and final exam, the kids who participate get to take home a bike, helmet, front and rear lights, bike bag, reflective vest, bike lock, and tire patches.
The project was born when Stamps returned to Flint to get involved in nonprofit work after spending 17 years in California as a hairstylist. She said she saw a problem with childhood obesity, and kids not getting enough exercise or playing outside.
“Most people don’t realize it is unnatural for us to be cooped up in the house and in cars all the time,” Stamps said. “We need sunshine, we need to be outside to feel the wind on our faces. We need fresh air. We need to see flowers and trees, and that kind of thing.”
As an avid bicyclist already, Stamps started the Kentakee Athletic & Social Clubs (KASC), an organization aimed at providing athletic and educational activities for teenagers, and developed the Berston Bicycle Club Project through that.
While the program is free, Stamps said the kids have to work for it, and it can be challenging. Each week the level of intensity increases, with a goal of riding 270 miles over the nine weeks.
Due to COVID-19, the program was not held in 2020, but Stamps said she had to cancel this year’s first session for another reason– not enough kids were committed to completing the program.
“What happens is, we’ll have children sign up, and then they’ll see how difficult it becomes, and then they quit,” Stamps said. “And I don’t like to let children in after the first week, because it is so challenging for this community, I guess because many of the children lead a sedentary lifestyle. So what we’re doing is, this year, we’ll have try-outs.”
The try-outs for the next session will be at Berston Field House from July 5-8, from 4-6 p.m. Stamps said the kids will need to bike about five miles, ride their bikes stationary, and ride north on Saginaw Street over some steep hills.
This session has 15 available slots, and will go from July 12 through Sept. 10. Once in the program, the group will meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Stamps will provide bikes for those without one to use throughout the program.
Each week the group will ride somewhere new, and explore the city. Stamps said she teaches students how to read maps, use hand signals, identify cardinal points, and learn multiple ways to get to a destination.
“I teach my kids how to use it as a car. My kids are from an urban area where, a lot of times, their parents can’t afford to buy a new car,” she said.
In addition to learning about biking, bike safety, and navigating, Stamps said they learn how to interact in a peer group and deal with problems.
“We solve problems like breakdowns, that kind of thing, together as a unit,” she said. “On the rainy days, if it’s not thundering and lightning, we take a vote to figure out if we’re going to ride.”
It’s also been a great way for kids to make friends, she said.
“I feel like these kids don’t get to interact very often in a peer-on-peer environment, and I’ve seen some of them connecting in class and taking that outside of class, and develop a friendship,” Stamps said. “That’s kind of fun to watch.”
Stamps said all children need to try out for the program is a good attitude.
“You don’t need a special skill set like other sports,” Stamps said. “All you need to do is just be willing to try your best, be consistent and tenacious, and you should make it through.”