A hundred children with autism and other disabilities will escort a trio of cyclists on Sunday on the first leg of a cross-country bike trip to benefit children with special needs. For many of the children, this will be their first time on a bike. But they’ll be able to ride on specially adapted bicycles because of the efforts of an 11-year-old Livingston girl.
Bike 4 Friendship will begin 9:30 a.m. Sunday from Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy. By the end of August, the riders will reach California, with stops along the route for special events for children with special needs.
The kids giving the riders the big send-off on Sunday will receive their specially adapted bikes as a result of Olivia’s Friendship Cycle, a massive bicycle giveaway conceived by Olivia Lefkovits of Livingston.
Olivia started the event as part of her Bat Mitzvah project to help all kids enjoy the freedom and fun of bike riding. “Olivia wanted to do a festive project, something special for her Bat Mitzvah,” says Jeff Lefkovits, her father.
Since she loves kids and the outdoors, Olivia came up with the idea to give bikes to Friendship Circle children so they could enjoy biking as much as she does.
The seven-week bike tour itself will promote the mission of Friendship Circle, a nationwide organization connecting teenage volunteers with children and teens with special needs to foster a sense of companionship and community.
The three cross-country cyclists – Daniel Saul of Pittsburgh, Zalman Perlman of Los Angeles, and Shmuel Rothstein, a Baltimore native – will donate all the funds they raise to the Friendship Circle’s mission of bringing friendship and inclusion into the lives of children with special needs.
When Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of the Livingston branch of the Friendship Circle, heard about the students’ plans he saw that it would make the perfect complement to Olivia’s bike giveaway. “What better way to send these young rabbinic students off on a cross-country trip than with kids who will be on bicycles, many for the first time,” he said.
Heidi and Keith Lerner’s son Max, 16, who has a rare genetic disorder called 6q Deletion, will be the recipient of one of the custom designed bikes. “It will be a magical day,” says Heidi Lerner. “This is a bike we couldn’t afford on our own (specialized bikes can cost upwards of $5,000). It’s one of many amazing experiences Friendship Circle has brought into our lives.”
The bike is made by Freedom Concepts, a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company, that specializes in custom-made bikes for children and adults with special needs. Max’s bike is a three- wheeler that can hold his weight (obesity is a symptom of the rare disorder) and allows Max to pedal while his dad steers from behind. “Now we can spend a day biking as a family without worrying about Max tipping over when we make a turn,” says Heidi. The bike also allows Max to get the exercise he needs and enjoy time with his family out of doors.
There will be other unusual bikes at the cross-country kick off, including tandem bikes, semi-recumbent styles, and those made for children as young as one.
“That’s one of the coolest things about the event – that there’s a bike for every kid, no matter what his or her need or circumstance is,” says Jeff Lefkovits.
Saul and his buddies¸ who began training back in October, will be riding standard road bikes on their long trek. “We put stationary bikes in our rooms and studied books on training for road trips,” Saul said. Once the weather improved the guys took it outside and trained on roads and parks near their homes. They plan to cover between 100 and 120 miles per day in about 6 to 7 hours and will be touching base with 16 Friendship Circles on the trip. Some of the volunteers and families will host the travelers overnight.
“We didn't start out as jocks, but we’re very fit now,” says Saul. “We want to raise awareness about Friendship Circle but also to show people how each person can make a huge difference in the world. When you think about a little girl like Olivia helping to coordinate something that will really touch the lives of so many kids and their families, that’s inspiring,” says Saul. “We want to inspire others on our road trip in the same way.”
About the Friendship Circle
The Friendship Circle pairs teenage volunteers with children and teens who have special needs, with a goal of providing companionship and a welcome respite for families. Children and teens with special needs and their families benefit from home visits, recreational group programming, life skills training, winter and summer camps and athletic opportunities. The Volunteer Club also offers meaningful educational and social events for the teen mentors. The Friendship Circle is rapidly expanding, with more than 84 locations worldwide. The organization has cultivated friendships between 5,000 special children and nearly 11,000 teen volunteers.
The event will take place at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, 100 South Orange Ave., in Livingston at 9:30am. Additional details on are available online, at www.fcnj.com/oliviascycle.
You can also follow the riders coast to coast on the 4 Friendship web site.