Free helmets ensure students can bike to school safely

Free helmets ensure students can bike to school safely
Jarvis Paul Ramil and Ava MacDowell
Shariah Rhodes

Shariah Rhodes

For children between the ages of five and 14, biking related injuries account annually for more emergency room visits than any other sport. Unfortunately, only 45 percent of children under 14 report wearing a bike helmet “usually.”

In preparation for National Walk/Bike to School Day, Hendricks Avenue Elementary PTA Health and Wellness Committee Co-Chair Erin Sharer called in the experts for a bicycle helmet fitting event.

Sharer learned about the global Safe Kids organization when she worked as an emergency room nurse in North Carolina. After a presentation to the District PTA by Safe Kids Northeast Florida, volunteers learned the organization is available to provide bike helmet fittings, and Sharer contacted Safe Kids Coordinator Cynthia Dennis. The original plan called to give away 20 helmets at the event that was to be held the day before Walk/Bike to School Day. However, when teachers asked children to sign up for a helmet, the numbers grew. In the end, 65 helmets were distributed.

Safe Kids NEFL, one of over 400 U.S. coalitions of Safe Kids Worldwide, works at a grassroots level helping families keep their children safe from preventable injuries. Each community coalition has a lead organization that supports the coalition financially by covering all administrative costs, including personnel. Safe Kids NEFL is supported by THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health, a community advocacy and outreach organization for Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

This year, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health has two AmeriCorps volunteers serving in all facets of the organization. Both volunteers underwent training to become certified helmet fitters and participated at the Hendricks Avenue Elementary event along with several certified staff members. In addition to helmets, Safe Kids donated safety books to the school library and to students in kindergarten through third grade.

During the fitting, students were told the importance of wearing helmets and how to wear their helmets properly. Helmet recipient and fourth-grader Ava MacDowell said, “Our family goes on bike rides a lot. I will wear my helmet every time I ride my bike.” After receiving their helmets, second-graders Ansley Germain and Will Meyer said they learned that “if you don’t wear a bike helmet your skull and your brain might get hurt.” Second-grader Shariah Rhodes said for the best fit she must “take out her ponytail and keep the strap tight.”

Helmets are important for all riding sports, but it is essential to have the right type of helmet. Fifth-grader Nahun Antunez said he rides skateboards and scooters more than bikes. On hearing this, Megan Denk, Executive Director for THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health drove back to the office to supply Antunez with a multisport helmet. Antunez said he plans to wear it “every single day that use something ride on because the helmet protects your brain.”

Sam and Emma Venus

Sam and Emma Venus

According to Safe Kids Coordinator Cynthia Dennis, the organization has fitted and provided thousands of bike helmets to children in Northeast Florida over the past 14 years. Dennis reports that in the past six years alone, they have provided 2,400 helmets.

Not only does Safe Kids host helmet distribution events, but the coalition also hosts a weekly Safe Kid Buckle Up Inspection Station in partnership with Safe Kids Worldwide. By appointment, parents and caregivers receive installation education from a dedicated and experienced group of Safe Kids certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians. Reduced-cost car seats and booster seats are available for families who need assistance in obtaining the proper car seat. For more information about this service, call (904) 202-4302.

Dennis emphasizes that Safe Kids’ most “important message is prevention. Injuries like those suffered while riding in vehicles, as pedestrians/bike riders, drowning and the like are the leading killer of children between the ages of one and 19, but the good news is most of these injuries are preventable with education, awareness, safety tools like helmets and car seats and laws and regulations designed to keep children safe.”

Walk/Bike to School Day was a tremendous success even with Hurricane Michael threatening to rain it out. On the morning of the event, Hendricks Avenue Elementary students and parents could be seen on the neighborhood sidewalks leading to the school. All the students riding bikes and scooters came wearing helmets. When they arrived, Ozzie, the UNF mascot, greeted them in the front hall to celebrate and encourage the students.

Submitted by Leslie DeVooght

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