“The bikes aren’t from me,” says Katie Blomquist, a first-grade teacher in South Carolina who raised over $80,000 in two months to buy a bike for every kid in her school
But if she hadn’t dreamed up the goal, one night as she sat on her couch in her pajamas watching an episode of Friends, this wouldn’t have happened. All 650 students at the school wouldn’t have gathered one overcast afternoon in the school’s parking lot to hear a surprise announcement. They wouldn’t have heard her shout gleefully, “Today is the day [dramatic pause] that every single one of you Pepperhill students is getting [another pause] a brand-new bike!”
Then the children went wild. They were truly ecstatic. Most of them had never owned a bicycle. Staff members and volunteers whipped the tarp off the shiny, identical bikes parked close together in an impressive formation.
One little girl in another teacher’s class was new to the school because she’d just been placed in a new foster care situation. “She is just the most polite and sweet little girl,” Katie says. “And she told her teacher, ‘You mean I get a bike too? I just assumed because I was new I wouldn’t get one.’ And she was so happy thinking how now she and her foster brothers and sisters would have this bike to share and ride.”
One fifth grader, a very gregarious and popular boy who Katie assumed probably already owned a bike (“I don’t know why I assumed that,” she says now) was overcome with joy on the day of the announcement. “We finally get to learn to ride a bike!” he shouted to his sister, who had never even had the opportunity to sit on a bike in her life.
In the weeks since the big reveal, the neighborhoods where Pepperhill Elementary students live have been transformed. Before the bike giveaway, kids used to mostly stay inside watching TV, or come out only to play basketball. Now neighbors report to Katie seeing large, roving groups of kids on bikes, riding in circles in empty parking lots and up and down the sidewalks. Kids who used to have a 20-minute walk to school now have a 5-minute ride instead.
A group effort
“I don’t think I knew what a big thing I was starting. I had an idea and I simply gave people a way to give. These bikes are gifts from people all over the country,” Katie explains.
Over a thousand people made gifts to the bike fundraiser she launched on Go Fund Me. Some gifts were as little as $5, others in the hundreds.
And one Wednesday morning at school, a month and a half into her fundraising campaign, the Steve Harvey Show’s producers called her. “Can you be on a flight in three hours?” they asked.
“They flew me to Chicago, put me up in a nice hotel, treated me like I was somebody. They did my hair and makeup. Steve Harvey sort of knew the story, but when he heard me tell the story, he really connected with it. He shared that, when he was little, his dad bought him a used, pink, girl’s bike, which he didn’t even care was pink, he loved it so much. He had planned to donate $10,000, but he was so touched onstage that he doubled it to $20,000. It was emotional and so generous.”
The idea: Give the gift of joy
Katie had a happy childhood. She got to go to summer camps and take swimming lessons, ride her bike around her Los Angeles neighborhood, and dress up in fun costumes for tick-or-treating on Halloween. She describes herself as “a real, live Valley Girl.” Her father is a television producer (of Walker Texas Ranger and A Team fame) and her mother did charitable work.
But then she grew up, moved East, and became a Title I teacher.
“I think a lot of us took childhood joys for granted. Camps, lessons, trips, bikes,” Katie says. “But that’s not a luxury everyone has. And you might assume everyone enjoys some of those basic joys of childhood, until you work with a population of kids who don’t really do much but stay in their neighborhood. When I ask, ‘What’s your favorite restaurant?’ they say McDonalds. They just don’t get to do much.”
Katie points out that there are a lot of grants and charities devoted to helping poor kids get the care they need, like “food and shelter and foster care and counseling and all that good stuff,” but that there aren’t a lot of charities dedicated to providing “just pure joy for kids because they’re kids.”
Up next: More pure joy, including for Title I teachers!
Now that she’s tasted fundraising success, Katie wants to bring more joy to more people. She’s launched a charity called Going Places, to raise money for swimming lessons, summer camps, Halloween costumes, and “joy for Title I teachers,” who so often spend their own money to decorate their classrooms, purchase rewards for students, and buy stimulus items and so forth. She thinks these teachers deserve some love, and a treat just for them. Make a gift to help send a kid to camp or give a little joy to a deserving teacher by at weregoingplaces.com.