Walk ‘n Rollers continues mission of encouraging kids to be more active
By Katie Lulla
Walk ‘n Rollers is devoted to encouraging kids to walk and bike to school. During the pandemic, the organization continued to keep kids active and is gearing up for a mobile Repair Hub program for underserved communities.
Eleven years ago, Jim Shanman, founder of Walk ‘n Rollers, joined the Culver City Bikers Coalition when he realized that many parents didn’t walk their kids to school. While discussing plans for bike lanes, he became frustrated with the length of the expected timelines.
“I did more research and thought about what we as parents could do right now,” Shanman said. “What doesn’t cost money and will have some kind of an impact? I learned a lot about Safe Routes to School Programming, walk to school days and things of that nature.”
Shanman started a walk to school day at his daughter’s elementary school. It became a monthly event, which eventually grew to 40% of students walking to school once a month. That got Shanman thinking about expanding the program countrywide.
Walk ‘n Rollers has since expanded from Culver City to Orange County, Riverside and the Inland Empire. The organization works with specific elementary and middle schools and has citywide efforts.
“Our big lesson is, these programs should be three to four years at the minimum so that they can build up, build out and become sustainable,” Shanman said.
“These programs help, but over a period of time.”
It takes Walk ‘n Rollers two years to create a relationship with a school and gain a volunteer base of parents. After that, they grow the program by teaching the parents the importance of letting kids walk and bike to school.
“We know that the programs improve attendance in schools. We know that it improves [the children’s grades], we know that it saves the districts money. There are all these great benefits that come from it,” Shanman said. “Our biggest challenge is getting parents to unwind [their] thinking and to understand the value of this.”
Shanman assuages the parents’ worries by having one-on-one talks about safety and childhood development. Over time, he adjusted the walking challenges to a distance that parents were comfortable with. Shanman said that parents are very hesitant to walk more than five blocks, but three blocks seems to be the magic number.
“If I hadn’t gone through that as a parent, I would probably not do as good of a job as we do because I wouldn’t understand it from a parent’s standpoint,” Shanman said. “It’s about teaching the parent about letting go and the responsibility [the child gains].”
When the pandemic hit, Walk ‘n Rollers could no longer promote walking to school, so they moved to other activities that would promote outside activity. They hosted a bike repair day in Moreno Valley, held neighborhood scavenger hunts, and created an ongoing program called “The Walk Across America Challenge” in Culver City.
“It was a way to engage and include the PE teachers, since there was something they could talk about in their Zoom lessons,” Shanman said. “It really shows what happens when a school embraces a program and gets the kids active.”
The school by school challenge requires students to record their miles walked and biked with a pedometer and an online tracking system. The miles are then totaled up and charted across a map of the U.S. to see which school reaches Washington, D.C. first. One school has been very enthusiastic and already hit 3,000 miles.
“Administrators have had to go to hell and back, we are literally the lowest common denominator and we know that,” Shanman said. “We recreated some programs. The bike distribution program was one of them.”
The bike distribution program was started when Walk ‘n Rollers opened an online form to donate bikes. The bikes were all taken within 24 hours, which encouraged Shanman to start gathering bike donations and matching them to kids that needed them. So far, they have given away 80 bikes.
“Families were trying to adjust to the Safer-at-Home orders. Getting outdoors and exercising by foot and by bike suddenly became a priority,” Shanman said.
“What started as a kind gesture to a few became a needed program for many.”
Walk ‘n Rollers uses the bike distribution program to continue to maintain its efforts to educate families on the importance of biking and walking.
“In everything that we do there is a strong education component,” said Shanman, who holds a certificate as a League Cycling Instructor. “We make sure that whoever picks up a bike gets safety instruction. We do a quick review of the rules of the road, show safety videos, have helmet fittings and even discuss walking safety.”
Currently, Walk ‘n Rollers is fundraising for a new program that will teach kids in underserved communities a range of vocation skills by learning from and running pop-up bike co-ops. The organization has opened a GoFundMe to raise $10,000 for a freight container, tools, parts and other supplies.
“One of our advantages is the reach because we can touch on so many communities, but it’s also kind of a disadvantage because we work in so many areas that we’re not specific to any one of them,” Shanman said.
The bike co-ops will be mobile and will allow Walk ‘n Rollers to more effectively reach communities outside of LA County.
“With the way that we’re structuring this, each one of those containers would serve as a local bike co-op,” Shanman said. “Our goal is to use them as learning centers. To teach the kids how to be those volunteer helpers and teach them how to be bike mechanics, safety instructors [and] run these hubs like a business center.”
While the younger kids will learn basic bike maintenance, teenagers will manage the co-op. In addition to teaching their community, they will have to figure out how many bikes to sell and how many to donate in order to keep the co-op running.
Even as Walk ‘n Rollers expands programs and services, it remains true to its founding mission.
“Our focus has always been and will continue to be getting kids to be more active primarily through walking and biking to school more often,” Shanman said.
“Our goal is to get more people more active primarily through walking and biking as well.”