WESTFIELD – Allen Cordero didn’t have a bike helmet until Tuesday.
The Franklin Avenue Elementary School third grader rode his bicycle and scooter without a helmet. But thanks to the Westfield Kiwanis, Cordero and 48 of his classmates now have helmets.
“I feel excited,” Cordero said after his brand-new helmet was fitted by Kiwanis member Brad Cassin. “I feel safer and I’ll use it a lot.”
Cassin said the Westfield Kiwanis has given free, new helmets to students in third grade across the city for six years.
“We used to do a bike rodeo, but we were only getting about a dozen kids,” said Cassin, an avid cyclist.
Cassin and his fellow Kiwanis members wanted to reach more young people and their families to educate them about bike safety, so they decided a helmet program was a way to get into the schools and talk to more students.
Kiwanis works with New Horizons Bikes and the Podolski family to make sure students have a new helmet.
“We use Kiwanis funds and have local sponsors and purchase last year’s models, which are usually replaced each year with new colors and designs, so we get a good price through New Horizons,” Cassin said.
Cassin and other Kiwanis volunteers fit each child and discuss proper fit and safety.
Ill-fitting helmets are the number one mistake Cassin sees, particularly with children.
“They’re not adjusted or worn properly,” he said. “It’s either too far back on their head or the chin strap is dangling.”
Cassin said too many children do not have helmets.
“It’s amazing how many kids do not have a helmet or just don’t bother wearing it,” Cassin said.
Fitting each child gives volunteers the opportunity to encourage use and talk about safety, one-on-one.
Third grade teacher Julie Neuser said the program is “fabulous.”
“We asked the class how many of them rode bikes or scooters and almost everyone raised their hand,” she said, “but when we asked how many had or wore helmets, only half the class said yes.”
Neuser said she works the gift into a lesson on how to write a thank you letter, so it ties into her writing curriculum. Franklin Avenue School also has a K Kids chapter, which is a youth version of Kiwanis.
“The students are very excited, and grateful,” she said.
Cassin said he loves receiving the thank you notes and meeting with students.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” he said.
The program began with the donation of 35 helmets and continues to grow each year. Tina Macy of Volunteers in Public Schools coordinates the donation with Westfield Public Schools. This year, Westfield Kiwanis donated 49 helmets at Franklin Avenue, 51 helmets at Abner Gibbs, 16 helmets at St Mary’s and 74 at Highland Elementary School.