Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2012, 8:40 am

Bikes for Brains continues to brighten children's lives

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Viridiana Medrano-Mendoza, 3, of Rock Island, tries out her new bike as she receives a little help from Diana Saelens from the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education, at the annual Bikes for Brains bike giveaway at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011.
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MOLINE -- The idea to form a Bikes for Brains program 10 years ago seemed like a ''no-brainer'' to its creator, after oncestruggling to wrangle a new Barbie bicycle into the trunk of her car.

''Loading that bike with all its streamers and everything into my car was an arduous thing to do,'' said Sheila Burns, a consultant at the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education.

She also noticed that nearly every Christmas wish list hanging on an Angel Tree at Sandy Seeley-Copley's Queen's Parlor cosmetology salon in Moline included a request for a new bicycle, which is what prompted her into a wrestling match with the Barbie bike.

So she and Ms. Seeley-Copely started brainstorming about a way to make it easier to grant Christmas wishes to kids who want a new bike, and turned for advice to Steve DePron, owner of Rock Island's Bike & Hike.

Now, instead of trying to cram one bike into a car trunk, Bikes for Brains uses a donated semi from Amhof Trucking in Eldridge and packs it with at least 100 bikes bought from Wallmart through contributions.

The bikes then are given away at a big party at the Martin Luther King Center in Rock Island.This year's party will be from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, at the center, 630 9th St./Martin Luther King Drive.

Until then, organizers are seeking donations to buy more bikes. Each $50 contribution grants a young child a ''bright, shiny bike, training wheels and a helmet,'' according to a news release.

Donations may be made to ''Bikes for Brains,'' c/o Queen's Parlor, 171 19th Ave., Moline. For information, call Ms. Seeley-Copley at (309) 797-1160.

''We have checks already coming in, but we need the community to know it's coming up fast,'' she said. ''We have less than a month to raise $7,000 to $8,000, but we know the Quad-Cities is incredible and will come through for us again.

''This is going to be our 11th year, and I can't believe it,'' Ms. Seeley-Copley said. ''In our first year, we gave 45 bikes away. Last year, we gave away 130.''

''Generally, we give away about 100 bikes a year, but we didn't really keep a spot-on accurate count,'' Ms. Burns said. ''One year a Davenport law firm gave us enough to buy an extra 100 bikes, so we gave away 200. But seeing as this is our 11th year, it's fair to say we've given away more than 1,000 bikes since we've been doing this.''

The process has been streamlined over the years, Ms. Burns said. Parents are required to accompany their child, and children are required to get fit for a bicycle helmet, donated by the Moline Pilot Club, and watch a bicycle-safety puppet show, she said.

Preventing brain injuries is part of the club's mission, Ms. Burns said. A puppet show is a better way to explain bike safety to kids than making them read about it, especially if they don't read English, she said.

Children in early childhood classes at the regional office of education will get 66 bikes, and most of the rest will go to Rock Island Head Start families, according to a news release. Some of those families are recent immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries.

Other recipients will be kids from the Children's Therapy Center, Youth Hope, Winnie's Place and The Project.

''Last year, we also gave some bikes to a couple of adult refugees who had absolutely no other transportation available,'' Ms. Seeley-Copley said.

''We usually do buy a couple extra bikes just so no one ever leaves disappointed,'' Ms. Burns said.

Ms. Seeley-Copley remembers when a boy of about 6 came with his 4-year-old brother, who wasn't on the list to get a bike. ''But we looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and said 'we have to give him a bike, too,''' she said. ''We really don't want to turn anyone down.''

There are a lot of tears and hugs from kids and parents on delivery day, Ms. Seeley-Copley said. ''Everyone appreciates it so much, it makes it all worthwhile.''

Chris Swanson, a local dad whose son got a bicycle from Bikes for Brains a couple years ago, called the program ''awesome.''

His son probably could use a larger bike now, but Mr. Swanson, according to the news release, instead wants to donate money this year to Bikes for Brains to give another kid the thrill of getting a new bike and helmet, ''because I know what it feels like.''

''It feels absolutely fantastic,'' Ms. Seeley-Copley said.

''Just the gratitude of a child and family makes it all very nice on so many levels,'' Ms. Burns said.

It's also easier, she said, than wrestling a Barbie bike into a car trunk.