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Despite campus being closed, the blacktop at Willis Jepson Middle School was filled with youngsters riding their bikes and scooters.

However, they were there for a purpose. These kids were members of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club, and they were receiving bicycle safety tips from local police officers.

Youthful club members got some much-needed exercise when Officer Aaron Love came by to teach kids the basics of bike safety and even got to lead them on a short course around Jepson’s blacktop. The club has been meeting at Jepson since its usual space at the Trower Center is undergoing renovations.

This is the first year the Boys & Girls Club has hosted a bike rodeo. Josefina Arteaga, the program manager for the club’s After School Education and Safety program for Markham Elementary School, said that with the coronavirus closing a lot of businesses and amenities, the club is striving to do more fun activities with the kids.

After a few meetings, the staff decided to do something involving bikes. Arteaga said that since a lot of its members come from economically disadvantaged situations, not all of them are able to ride bikes or scooters.

“We came up with the idea to bring it to life and have the police officers guide them,” she said.

Love said he regularly stops by the Boys & Girls Club centers to talk to the kids, and he is always looking for ways to be involved in local service organizations. When Club Executive Director Anna Eaton called to ask the Police Department to participate in the event, he jumped at the chance.
Love was joined by Officer Robert Villanueva and Sgt. Jason Johnson, who helped distribute helmets that had been donated by the Vacaville Police Officers Association to the kids. The kids then lined up with their bikes and scooters — while maintaining a distance of 6 feet apart, of course — while Love dished out quick lessons on bike safety.

Among Love’s tips: follow the rules of a car when riding a bike, always stop at a stop sign, walk your bike through a crosswalk, wear shoes instead of sandals and — of course — always wear a helmet. Love said this applies equally to scooters, skateboards, rollerblades and other recreational activities on wheels.
“If I break my leg or I twist my ankle, those things will heal,” he said. “If we’re riding our bicycles or our scooters and we fall and we hurt our wrist, our wrist is going to heal. Our brains sometimes don’t heal when we hurt them, so if we fall and we hit our heads, our brains aren’t always going to be able to heal. That’s why it’s so important to always wear a helmet.”

Love then led kids on a short, circular path around the blacktop, past the basketball hoops and chain-link fences. He also sent kids on a short circular route of their own and timed them. The fastest time was 25 seconds.
Arteaga said the kids loved the activity and were excited before it even started.

“They were planning with the bikes, and they were like, ‘What time is it? What time is it?,'” she said. “They were so happy and excited to do activities.”

At a time when people are staying home to stop the spread of the virus, Arteaga said it was important for kids to get their exercise in.

“There are so many different ways to do exercise and not only going to the gym,” she said. “We can even ride our bikes and explore nature.”

Love said the activity was a way to let kids know the critical safety skills when riding their bikes and also to build a connection to the youth.

“The Vacaville Police Department has, for the 23 years that I’ve been here, been very intentional about building relationships in the community,” he said. “This is one of the many ways that we have to build those relationships with the future of our community: these kids.”

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