Fifth-grader rides to four schools to raise cycling awareness

ADDISON COUNTY — Sunny skies and moderate temperatures make Monday a perfect day for a bike ride, and Cornwall 11-year-old Griffin Schneider did pedal his bike to school — actually to four schools.
Accompanied by his parents and Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Peter Burrows, Griffin Schneider pedaled some 30 miles around Addison County to raise awareness for World Bicycle Relief and to encourage other students to consider new ways of getting to school.
The day began in Cornwall at Bingham Memorial School, just over two miles from Schneider’s home. The fifth-grader; his father, Peter; and his mother, professional triathlete Jessie Donovan applied sunscreen, and then got an energetic send-off from the entire school community. The trio was joined by Burrows, an experienced bicyclist who gained attention last September by riding to the district’s seven elementary schools on the first day of school.
Griffin Schneider is no novice either. An enthusiastic rider since he was very young, Schneider’s enthusiasm for riding was piqued further while he lived in Shelburne and attended the Lake Champlain Waldorf School. He learned from his gym teacher, South African Mashobane Moruthane, about his experiences traveling to school and work.
“I heard stories about how he had to walk to school, do jobs at home and then bike back,” he said. “Some students have to walk four miles to school, come home, go back to school and then walk home again.”
At the time, Schneider was occasionally riding his bike to and from the Lake Champlain Waldorf School — a six-mile round trip.
“It’s a way to get my blood moving before I start the day,” he said, describing the practice. “That way I get to school energized.”
After completing the ride for four weeks, he decided to keep going and found a way to put his passion for pedaling to good use. While with his family at an Ironman triathlon, Schneider met athletes and volunteers from World Bicycle Relief (WBR), an international nonprofit that seeks to provide people in African communities with better access to healthcare, education and work opportunities by distributing bicycles to students, healthcare workers and small business owners.
Claire Geiger, a grassroots development manager for WBR, said she was struck by Schneider’s enthusiasm.
“Most nine-year-olds are more concerned with riding their bikes for their own leisure or out with their friends,” she said. “Griffin is a force. He’s done all of this on his own accord and he’s dedicated to sharing what he has.”
The following year in third grade, he rode every single day without fail through every imaginable kind of weather — rain, sun, snow and even Tropical Storm Irene. Donations came in single dollar bills, and handfuls of change, but by the end of the year he had raised more than $3,000.
“I thought that if people saw me they would support the cause and want to get involved,” he said.
“It was a dollar here and a dollar there,” said Jessie Donovan. “It was people on the street, crossing guards — it was a lot of small donations that made that first $3,000 happen.”
Schneider’s classmates noticed and the entire school joined him for a ride to school and held a bake sale, raising $300. Bingham Memorial, where he currently attends fifth grade, has raised enough funds for a bike by selling lemonade. It costs WBR $134 to put a bike in the field.
Now, after having moved to Cornwall and in his third year of fundraising, Schneider has raised roughly $5,000 to date, which translates to more than 30 bicycles distributed to students and healthcare workers in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The “Buffalo” bikes distributed by WBR are made of heavy steel tubing, aggressively treaded, puncture-resistant tires and can support 220 pounds, making them an appealing choice for transporting goods on rugged terrain — less so for paved roads like Routes 30, 7 and 125, upon which Monday’s ride traveled.
After leaving Bingham Memorial, Schneider and his crew biked south on Route 30 and across Swamp Road to the Salisbury Community School, where Schneider told his story to the schoolchildren. Then it was north up Route 7 to Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary.
Beginning his 30-minute presentation in the Mary Hogan Elementary library Schneider asked students how they got to school.
“Now what would you do if you didn’t have a car or a bus to drive you?” he asked.
Some students offered suggestions ranging from scooters to horses to subways, but with the help of a PowerPoint presentation and a demonstration of the bike (which was donated for the ride by WBR and assembled at the Middlebury Bike Center) Schneider made his point: In rural communities, transportation to work and school is vital and a bicycle can be a viable means of transportation where automobiles are not.
“I think it’s a good fundraiser because I’m sending bikes that improve people’s lives,” he said. “And I think that if I can keep sending more I can change more people’s lives.”
After Bingham Memorial, Salisbury and Mary Hogan, Schneider biked to Weybridge for another presentation and lunch, before finishing the ride where he started. Finally, at the end of the day, he biked home.
Schneider’s efforts have gained attention within the World Bicycle Relief community, and his personal fundraising page on the organization’s website earned him praise from visitors as the donations rolled in.
Last year, he received a thick envelope of letters from students who had received the bikes.
“Dear Griffin,” read one, “I thank you for this good work you have been doing. Griffin, you have done well to assist us with the bicycle because where we live is very far from our school. Other students who don’t have bicycles have stopped school.”
His project has also had a visible effect locally; by the end of Schneider’s year of riding, the school installed three new bike racks to accommodate the increase in bicycle traffic.
“It’s been an amazing thing to watch,” said Griffin’s father, Peter. “This has been a project entirely of his design and we’re convinced it’s only a sign of great things to come.”
In the future Griffin said he intends to continue to raise more funds and ride greater distances, possibly even the length of the state; a distance of at least 160 miles. While he admits not too many of his peers would consider such a ride, he doesn’t see that as a reason to stop.
“When I tell people what I’m doing they tell me, ‘Good job’ and that they’re proud of me,” he said. “It makes me want to keep going.” 

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