Spinners Bicycle Club
broaden the lives of local at-risk youth
By Steve Baker
you’ve spent time on the Swamp Rabbit Trail recently, you know it is being used
by thousands of Upstate cyclists, runners and walkers every week. The trail’s
smooth pavement and beautiful scenery have helped attract quite a few people to
the sport of cycling, many for the first time. Some of the new people you pass
riding bikes with big smiles on their faces might be the members of a group
called the Sterling Spinners.
Sterling Spinners is a bicycle club for middle school students in the Sterling
community in Greenville. The club is the result of some forward thinking
Upstate leaders who were looking for ways to improve communities in our area.
The group was attending the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative
at Furman University – where business, government and academic leaders learn to
embrace diversity in a very broad sense. Pamela Jamarick was part of the
nine-person team that developed the Sterling Spinners concept for their 2010
DLI capstone project.
wanted to focus on improving the lives of children of incarcerated parents,”
says Jamarick, Director of Diversity for Michelin North America. “We also
wanted to help fight the growing problem of childhood obesity and chronic
diseases by educating these children about health and fitness. From the very
beginning, the program was intended to be about more than just riding bikes. We
thought that it could build members’ self-esteem and confidence.”
group targeted the predominantly African-American Sterling community because of
the disproportionately large incidence of adult-onset diabetes in that
population, and they recruited partners to help. “We came up with the idea, but
we needed help in making the program sustainable,” says Jamarick. Her group
enlisted the support of David Taylor and the Building Dreams mentoring program
from Clemson University.
worked with Sylvia Vandross at the Sterling Community Center to recruit 10
students that first year,” says Taylor. “She helped us get connected to the
kids, provided us with a place to store the bikes, and somewhere to do
classroom education on bike safety and healthy living. Thanks to the great
support of LiveWell Greenville, St. Francis Hospital, The Great Escape, the
Greenville Spinners and some others, we were able to accommodate everyone that
was interested in joining that first year.”
contacted the Greenville Spinners for cycling support and expertise. The
Greenville Spinners Bicycle Club is made up of nearly 600 local men and women
who love to ride and want to serve as advocates for cycling. Several members
volunteered to help, including avid cyclist and bicycle racer Tim Granger.
Taylor relied on Granger’s expertise and enthusiasm to help educate and
motivate the kids in the club, and he’s participated ever since.
didn’t take long for me to realize what a great program this was,” says
Granger. “There is a lot of talk out there about doing the right thing and
solving societal problems, but we need more action. I had adult influences in
my youth, and I remember the impact they made. Kids need positive influences in
their lives. I love spending time with these kids, and I think I get just as
much out of it as they do.”
Sterling Spinners members quickly learned what the bicycle could do for them.
They traveled farther than they ever had before, exploring new sections of town
all under their own power. They gained independence, and some of them
experienced a real sense of ownership and responsibility for the first time in
their lives. They developed such a sense of camaraderie that they didn’t want
to stop riding together at the end of the summer.
intended for the club to be a summer program, but everyone was having so much
fun that they didn’t want to stop getting together after school started again,”
says Taylor. “We kept on riding and doing club activities right on through the
school year. It was a huge success.”
in its third year, the Sterling Spinners participates in many activities, on
and off the bike. In addition to their rides around town, they have traveled by
car to Clemson University and to a Youth-In-Government event in Columbia. They
have attended a Furman football game, and recently took the Red Cross CPR
certification course as a group.
club is not just for middle schoolers anymore either. Some members have enjoyed
the experiences so much, they have stuck with the club into their high school
years. “The oldest are now juniors, and we plan to see them through
graduation,” says Taylor. “We are now up to 20 kids and five adults in the
club. These kids are seizing their future – a future with an active lifestyle
that’s vibrant and healthy.”
hard to measure just how important the club is to some members. Lakita Cowens,
whose son Malachi is now a proud Sterling Spinners member, says that being in
the bike club has made all the difference. Malachi was having a very difficult
time in school before he became a member. “The bike club has really changed
him. Now he’s an A/B honor roll student. He’s in more activities too, not just
the bike club.” Other parents are singing the same praises. This club is
improving the lives of its members in a way that will hopefully last a
key to the club’s success appears to be the relationships building between the
mentors and the students. The bike is a great way to get everyone together, but
it goes far beyond pedaling along the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
program is thriving, but they could use more resources to serve more kids.
Granger summarizes what’s needed in one word, “Involvement! We need caring
adults to consistently spend time and set positive examples that can make a
difference in the lives of these kids. It’s easy and it’s fun. We just need
more people to make it a priority.”
you want to get involved with the Sterling Spinners, please contact David
Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-250-4667. You will have a real impact on
the children you help, and the children may have an amazing influence on you in