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Notre Dame College Teams up to Help Special Needs Youth Learn to Ride Bicycles
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Notre Dame College Teams up to Help Special Needs Youth Learn to Ride Bicycles

The campers range in age from 8 to 21 this year. They have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and more. They come from Strongsville, Mentor, Stow and other cities.

With the help of Notre Dame College student and employee volunteers, these youth with special needs will have learned to ride bicycles─with or without training wheels.

For the third consecutive summer, the College is taking part in iCan Bike, An Achievement Center for Children Camp, which is teaching 30 people with special needs how to ride conventional two-wheelers.

And the program inspires the Notre Dame volunteers as much as those who learn to ride.

“There is something about being physically here to see their smiles, their tears, their successes. It’s a life-changing experience for the volunteers,” said Jason Baxter, manager of athletic operations at the College.

Notre Dame not only hosts and sponsors this now one-of-a-kind camp in Northeast Ohio but also provides most of the nearly 60 volunteers who teach the youth with special needs the "lose the training wheels" techniques. A large number of those serving are Notre Dame student-athletes. 

“This experience may truly do as much for the volunteers as for the campers,” said Deena Barrett, volunteer and camp co-director. “They see these children grow and put themselves in a position to help these campers and they, too, as volunteers learn I can do this.”

“These volunteers and sponsors learn not only that they can help these children and their families, but that they can do more of this,” added Rob Fellinger, volunteer and camp co-director. “They see firsthand they can volunteer here and through other organizations and programs and make a difference in the lives of others.”

While more than two dozen youth will learn to ride bicycles at Notre Dame this summer, 10 more were turned away and are on a waiting list for next season. Similar iCan Bike camps were conducted in Akron and Copley in Ohio in the past, but the South Euclid effort is the only one left standing in this part of the state this year.

“You experience this once as a volunteer, and you get hooked,” Baxter said. “This is such a crucial moment for these children and their families. You are not just helping them learn how to ride bikes. You are helping them in their everyday lives, helping them to just be kids.”

The iCan Bike five-day program provides each camper with approximately one hour of instruction each day using a series of adapted bikes and practiced methods. At the end of the week, more than 80 percent of campers can successfully ride conventional bicycles. To date, the national organization has helped more than 5,000 people learn to ride bikes without the aid of training wheels.

“Children with special needs struggle with the successful attainment of any skill. Even if they don’t ride a bike by the end of this camp, they become more competent, more cooperative, more socially inclined, more complete people where their special needs diagnosis is second. They become kids first, kids with special needs next,” Barrett said.

The camp was conducted June 22-28 in and outside of the campus Keller Center.

View a photo slideshow from the iCan Bike program at Notre Dame.