“I’m actually on the trail right now with the kids. Can I call you back?”
“The trail” Matt Manley referred to is the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and “the kids” are part of the Nicholtown Spinners Bicycle Club. This bike club is so much more than just a group of kids getting together to ride bikes. The Spinners include mentors connecting youth to opportunities and experiences in their community that may not be offered to them otherwise. Matt Manley, who leads the Nicholtown Spinners, is the Community Planning Coordinator with LiveWell Greenville in Greenville, SC. The Greenville Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) initiative hones in on three Greenville County communities, Berea, Nicholtown and Sterling. Earlier this summer, LiveWell Greenville, along with other community partners created the Nicholtown Spinners Bicycle Club, which is modeled after the Sterling Spinners, a thriving initiative started in an adjacent community. The Sterling Spinners program was started by David Taylor with Building Dreams Mentoring Program, which is part of the Clemson Institute for Family and Neighborhood Life. And through Mr. Taylor’s leadership, a partnership with LiveWell Greenville was formed, and as a result, the objectives and impact of this group-mentoring program have evolved and expanded beyond Sterling.
It makes sense to start a bicycle club in Greenville County, an area that that is committed to making their community sustainable and includes the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a rail-trail that runs through downtown along the Reedy River for almost 14 miles. When it came to a program that works with Greenville youth, shows opportunities for bicycling and walking and highlights the importance of active living and healthy eating, “it was a no brainer,” Manley said.
LiveWell Greenville, which launched around the same time as the HKHC grant, “is a partnership of dozens of public and private organizations that aims to make Greenville County a healthier place to live, work, and play.” A collaboration with local businesses has provided the resources for the Nicholtown Spinners Bicycle Club. Greenville-based business, Scansource, provided the funds for the bicycles, and 12 bicycles were purchased at cost from a local bicycle shop, the Great Escape. “There seem to be all these doors opening in the business community,” Manley says, “There is certainly a very giving culture down here.” Matt, along with many volunteer mentors, lead the middle school-aged youth on rides all around Greenville. “In the summertime, we go to different sites and do different things, like touring community gardens and artists’ workshops and galleries,” said Manley. On the particular day I caught up with Matt, they had just gotten back from a West African drumming workshop.
The Nicholtown Spinners model, similar to the Sterling Spinners group, focuses on serving youth that are affected by incarceration. Both programs are affiliated with the Building Dreams Mentoring Program, which focuses on positive youth development. The Nicholtown Spinners go on weekly rides, and if the youth maintain good grades and participate regularly, they can keep their bikes at the end of the year. LiveWell Greenville has relationships with area churches, the Nicholtown Community Center and the City of Greenville Parks and Recreation Department. Through these networks, the partnership can identify youth who are eligible and would benefit from the Nicholtown Spinners program. The club not only builds self-confidence, it also promotes empowerment and educates youth on healthy eating and active living strategies.
LiveWell Greenville is currently working on a dissemination guide in order to continue replicating this model with Manley’s leadership. He said, “this is just the tip of the iceberg…we’re trying to create something here that is a national model for youth engagement and cycling.” They are exploring many opportunities to expand on what is working and using existing assets in the community to their advantage. Currently, they are talking with Furman University to start a community bicycle shop which will include a youth component.
When school starts in the fall, the Nicholtown Spinners will meet twice a month (the group will take time off in the winter). Matt, along with LiveWell Greenville partners and mentors, will continue to find opportunities to connect the youth in the bicycle club with many different experiences, fun learning activities and outlets for healthy eating and active living throughout their neighborhoods. The Sterling Spinners club is now in its third year, and some youth have participated since the beginning. In a couple more years, those kids will be finishing high school. Through the involvement in the Spinners’ programs, LiveWell Greenville is hopeful many of the youth will see the importance of access to healthy opportunities, learn ways to get involved in their community and go on to lead healthy lives. “[We’re] turning youth into future advocates,” Manley says.