|Tom Robertson, a St. Ann parent and pediatric occupational therapist, helps present a bike purchased through St. Ann’s Bakers for Bikes program to 6-year-old Ellie Gough during St. Ann School’s “Eagle Strong Day,” March 11. Students in the Bakers for Bikes school club bake large batches of muffins and sell them to the St. Ann community to raise money to purchase specially modified bicycles for children with special needs. Photos by Rick Musacchio
What do muffins, bicycles and service have in common? Well, for the St. Ann School community in Nashville, they all go hand-in-hand.
Twice a year, the school club Bakers for Bikes holds a baking marathon in the school cafeteria kitchen, baking and packaging approximately 300 muffins to sell to St. Ann families. Then they donate the funds raised to an organization that modifies bicycles for special needs children. Finally, they present the bike to the child during an all-school ceremony.
“I’m so proud that the St. Ann community has stayed behind this and supported it,” said St. Ann parent and pediatric occupational therapist Tom Robertson. “It’s a really hands-on, worthwhile cause.”
It was Robertson’s daughter Ella Grace who first planted the seed for the service project three years ago when she approached her fourth grade teacher, Cathy Sharbel, with the idea.
Ella Grace suggested that her class raise money to purchase a modified bicycle for a child with special needs who was unable to ride a traditional bike. So she and her classmates held a bake sale and raised enough money to sponsor one bicycle. The project was so popular that it soon became an annual service project for St. Ann School.
“It started out as a one-time thing, but Miss Sharbel really took the ball and ran with it,” said Tom Robertson.
Sharbel has since moved on to another school, so a new group of parents and students took up the mantle of Bakers for Bikes to continue the program. “The kids are involved as possible. It’s their thing and they really feel like they own it,” said St. Ann parent Lisa Wright, who supervises the baking portion of the project.
|Bike recipient Ellie Gough cheers during the pep rally where she was presented with a new bike.
Students in fifth through eighth grades are now involved with the actual baking, which they do on a volunteer basis after school. Then they sell the muffins to families in the school pick-up line and to St. Ann parishioners after Sunday Masses. “We made over $700 the last time we sold them,” said Wright.
That money can cover the cost of one or more bikes, depending on how extensively they need to be modified.
The bikes are purchased through Music City Trykes, the local chapter of the AMBUCS organization, a nonprofit dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities like spina bifida and Down syndrome.
These bikes are hand and/or foot operated, with extra straps and seat modifications for easier operation and better balance. They are uniquely designed to accommodate riders of all ages, sizes and varying degrees of physical limitations, and can be cost prohibitive to the average family.
Robertson, who has helped connect deserving families with St. Ann through his work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the bikes can be a great gift to children in need. In many instances, children with special needs and physical limitations are less physically active than they need to be, he said. “Having a bike can be more motivation to get outside and exercise,” he said. “It also opens up the kids a lot more for socialization opportunities.”
Earlier this month, St. Ann students presented two new bikes to a boy and girl during a school assembly and pep rally for “Eagle Strong Day,” a new initiative to celebrate school spirit and community service.
The students smiled and cheered as the children took their new bikes for a test drive around the gym.
Watching an excited child enjoy their new bike lets St. Ann students see their hard work pay off.
“The best part about this project is that the kids get to see the recipient, and see the bike, and see the child enjoying it,” said Wright.