Unaware of their destination, 34 local children affiliated with the Rhode Island Family Shelter at 165 Beach Ave. eagerly took their seats aboard three coach buses Tuesday morning. Though many of them had great guesses, including the zoo or circus, none imagined they were on their way to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the New England Patriots.
Just as the buses pulled into the parking lot, the children were told they were each about to receive a brand new bicycle, which they were going to ride three times on the circular warning track of the football field.
“I never rode a bike before,” said Summer Whitaker, 3, as she cycled along. “It’s kind of like flying.”
Her mother Heather Johnson, said, “Her birthday is coming up and we were thinking about getting her a bike for her birthday, so this is perfect.”
Heather’s other two children, Layla, 4, and Kylie, 5, also attended the event and were given bikes. While Kylie, who suffers from Leukemia, wasn’t feeling up to ride her bike, she was pleased to receive it. Heather said Kylie enjoyed being at the stadium, as she is a Patriot’s fan.
“I’m so glad she got the chance to be here today,” said Heather. “There aren’t many happy days for her and this is a good one.”
Matthew Bjorklund, 17, a former resident of the emergency shelter but now lives upstairs in the affordable apartment potion, said it was “awesome” to be given a bike and ride it at the stadium.
“I’m a huge Patriot’s fan and this is pretty surprising,” said Bjorklund, who will start his senior year in September at the Met School in Providence. “This is my first time here and it’s unbelievable. It looks so much nicer in person.”
The donations were made possible through a partnership between the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation (NEPCF) and Covidien Plc., a medical equipment manufacture headquartered in Ireland and based in Mansfield, Mass. for U.S. operations. The company provided Huffy bicycles, as well as Bell helmets and safety instructions, while the NEPCF hosted the festivities. Boston Coach transported the guests at no cost, while Arpin donated their time to transport the bikes from the stadium to the shelter.
Further, Covidien employees served as volunteers for the day and assembled the bikes before the event. After the children arrived, each volunteer was paired up with a child and helped their “buddy” create a custom nametag for their bikes. Then, they helped the children take their bikes for a few spins on the warning track, which surrounds the field.
“It’s fun experience,” said Jim Monahan, a Manager of Infrastructure Applications for Covidien. “Watching the reactions from the kids as they go around the track is great.”
Chris McPherson, a Project Manager for Covidien, assisted Summer. He said was delighter to help the first-time cyclist.
“I have a daughter the same age so this is awesome,” he said.
Janis Fisher, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Family Shelter, also ventured to the stadium for the bike giveaway and said she was “so excited” when she was told the organization was selected to receive the bikes. She also said she was looking forward to visiting the field.
“I happen to be an absolute extreme Patriots fan, so I was thrilled,” said Fisher.
In fact, Fisher said she isn’t quite sure why the shelter was chosen to be the recipients of the bikes. However, she speculates it’s due to the fact that the shelter has worked with the NEPCF before.
During this time last year, Fisher said the shelter received a $2,500 grant from the NEPCF after John Ferguson, a volunteer at the shelter, was named runner-up in the organizations MVP Volunteer Award. She and Ferguson were invited to the stadium for a luncheon with the other nominee at the Fidelity Club House, which overlooks the field.
“We were able to meet some of the players [such as hall of fame player] John Hannah, Andre Tippitt, and Tom Brady,” Fisher said. “I felt like a 16 year old kid again when I met him. I was so excited.”
As a result, she said the NEPCF later informed the shelter that they could select any type of event to be funded by the organization. They arranged for Hannah and Tippitt, plus a handful of Patriot cheerleaders, to visit the shelter.
“They came here for what they called, ‘A Day of Fun,’” Fisher said. “They had activities like face painting and contests to see who could throw a football the farthest. They also brought books, autographed them and gave them out to the kids. It was just a wonderful day. We developed a good relationship with the organization along the way. They are wonderful to work with and are very receptive to what we do here. They are just terrific.”
Fisher said she spent the last month making the arrangements for the bike event with Sarah Leong Oliver, the Community Relations Coordinator for the New England Patriots. The event was open to everyone at the shelter, as well as three families from the Elizabeth Buffum Chase Center. In total, 68 people attended, including 34 adults.
On the ride home, Austin Duarte, 9, a student from Hoxsie Elementary School said, “I thought it was really cool that I got a free bike.”
His twin sister, Amber, agreed and said, “I’m really happy.”
Andrea Vierra, who works at the shelter two nights a week, was invited to bring her children, Tyler, 11, and Ashley, 8, on the excursion, as well. Both children are students at Wyman Elementary School and said they were excited to be part of the fun.
“My new bike is awesome because it’s been at Gillette Stadium,” Tyler said.
Ashley said it was a joy to be included, as it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. She summed it up perfectly when she said, “It was a nice day.”