The international charity collaborates with local organizations to serve people with special needs. Down Syndrome Network of Arizona recently hosted one of the organization’s 5-day iCanBike camps at Ability 360 Sports and Fitness Center in Phoenix.
“The camp used specially designed bikes that are geared for individuals with special needs to help them learn to ride a 2-wheel bike,” explained Jessica Blackwell, Volunteer and Program Coordinator for DS Network of Arizona.
When Lola heard about iCanBike she felt compelled to volunteer.
“It was summertime and kids ride bikes. I didn’t want some kids to feel like ‘I can’t do this because I’m different.’”
It’s hard to say who got more out of the experience – Lola or her rider, 12-year-old Luke Williams.
“People who have Down Syndrome tend to have less muscle tone and can struggle with the balance and coordination required to ride a bike, but we have always believed Luke would be able to learn someday,” explained his mom, Robyn. “It was clear that Lola’s presence by Luke’s side helped give him the confidence he needed to keep going throughout the week.”
His parents credit Lola’s friendly smile and spirit with helping to give their son the priceless gift of independence. Lola remembers the moment everything clicked and Luke was riding on his own.
“The best part was running beside Luke when I didn’t need to hold onto the handlebar anymore, and the training wheels came off, and he didn’t even know it. He was screaming for his dad and it just made me want to cry, it was such a good feeling to see him succeed.”
Luke’s parents said he absolutely loves riding and for years has ridden a tandem bike with his dad. It makes Lola happy to picture them now riding side by side for their favorite outing – to get frozen yogurt. Robyn said the ability to use an independent mode of transportation will benefit Luke for the rest of his life.
Lola’s mom believes the experience was life-changing for her daughter, too.
“I truly think she may have found her calling,” Laura Bishop told Mr. Kipper while thanking him for the volunteer opportunity, explaining that Lola had been considering studying nursing in college, but after her experience with iCanRide and the PEER Help program at Mountain Pointe, Lola believes she’s meant to be a special education teacher.
PEER Help allows students to earn an elective credit by assisting students and teachers in special needs classrooms. Lola is assigned to a math class where she helps students with activities like math bingo and dice games but what she enjoys most is “just being their friend, sitting with them at lunch, and making them feel not so different.”
It’s quickly become her favorite class.
“I just want to stay all day. It brings a smile to my face all day long,” Lola said.
She loves the idea of returning to Mountain Pointe someday to teach in the PEER Help program. But before that, she’s telling anyone who will listen about iCanBike. She hopes to bring an army of teenagers with her to next summer’s camp.
“I looked around and realized I was one of just a few kids volunteering. There were a lot of adults and I feel like when a kid helps a kid, it’s more social. It’s like ‘this is my friend teaching me instead of an adult showing me how to do something.’” Lola explained, adding “It’s fun, only five days and so rewarding. More people need to know about it.”
“This program could not work without the help of the wonderful volunteers who dedicated their time and energy. The volunteers ran alongside the riders every step of the way with words of encouragement, support, and friendship,” said Blackwell.
Luke’s mom agreed, “We are so thankful for Lola’s willingness to volunteer and for how she helped Luke achieve bike-riding success!”
Both moms are clearly proud of their own children but just as grateful for the lasting impact made by someone else’s child.