TribLIVE – Nuriah Blandchard, 10, of McKees Rocks, works on building her bike with volunteer Jenna Stearns (off camera), 21, of South Oakland, during the United Way of Southwestern PA’s fitUnited Build-A-Bike challenge at Heinz Field on the North Shore on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. 100 local students paired up with 100 local volunteers to construct bikes for the students, who were fitted for helmets before the bikes were inspected and tested by experts.
Tom Ojo, 10, had never owned a bike or been to Heinz Field.
That changed Thursday when he walked into the FedEx Great Hall as part of the third annual Build-A-Bike challenge hosted by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Tom not only came out of the stadium with a bike, but he helped build it.
“I never knew my first bike would be here at the actual Heinz Field,” said Tom of Whitehall. “I never, you know, saw somebody build the bike up front, so I was a bit flabbergasted to see it done.”
Tom and 99 other Western Pennsylvania children worked with 100 volunteers to build bicycles that the children could take home.
The event was the latest in an effort to improve the health of children through the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s fitUnited initiative. Its goal is to mobilize the community to increase physical activity and improve nutrition in children.
This was the third consecutive year in a row that volunteers built bicycles for children, but it was the first time the children were included in the process, according to Lois Mufuka Martin, United Way chief volunteer engagement officer.
“The idea was that this should be where adult volunteers are doing with children, not for children,” Martin said.
More than 43 teams of volunteers represented 20 corporations, three nonprofit organizations and local volunteer-led groups.
Sundeep Baggam represented Eat’n Park for the second straight year, but he found this year more rewarding.
“It’s a much better feeling of satisfaction knowing the kid you built the bike with would get it, too,” said Baggam, 35, of Beaver Falls.
The 100 children came from groups including Best of the Batch Foundation, the South Hills Interfaith Movement and Boys & Girls clubs in Carnegie and McKees Rocks. Ashley Bajkowski, South Hills’ summer camp program director, said few of the children receive opportunities like this, and a majority had never owned a bike.
“It was really heart-warming to see the smiles on their faces when they pulled pieces out and said, ‘Oh, wow!’ ” she said.
Local experts inspected each bike upon completion, and Pittsburgh police officers were on hand for helmet-fittings. Each child received a black and green Huffy Rock It 20-inch single-speed bike.
Tom doesn’t plan to go too crazy with his first bike.
“I’ll go with it step-by-step,” he said.