Special-needs kids learn bike skills in Alpharetta

Forty special-needs kids from across Georgia and the southeast are ready to take to the streets on their bicycles, courtesy of a program coordinated by the bike patrol unit in the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety.

The "I Can Bike" initiative is one of a series of development programs the Pennsylvania-based "I Can Shine" foundation coordinates with nonprofit groups around the U.S., said Officer Amanda Clay, one of the unit's two members. The program is a weeklong camp where the duo teaches special-needs children ages 8 and up the elements of balance and riding, turning, starting and stopping and about bike safety. The annual Alpharetta camp finished this past Friday.

Clay said she and her partner Allen Elfreth had volunteered with the program for the past three years, but this past year became the directors after the previous non-profit coordinating the program locally stepped away.

She said the program is needed because "it levels the playing field. Learning to ride a bike is something a lot of parents and kids take for granted. In the case of special-needs kids their parents might have tried to teach them but because of the difficulties of learning and just not having the right kinds of equipment they may have not been able to do that."

With Alpharetta supplying the equipment and teaching knowhow, said Clay, about 80 percent of the youngsters are riding on their own by week's end. She says the remainder are usually able to get the hang of it quickly with parental help, and with the lessons taught during the camp.

And how do the youngsters react? "The smiles are easily a mile wide," she said.