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Inmates fix up Bikes for Tykes

December 8, 2012
By HANS MADSEN, , Messenger News

ROCKWELL CITY - Tiona Kiley, 5, of Fort Dodge, looked just a little bit scared as she stepped on her new scooter Saturday afternoon at the annual North Central Correctional Facility Bikes for Tykes event.

She got a little help from her mom, Nikki Helmantoler, with the steering and balance.

"She's been wanting a scooter for last couple of years," Helmantoler said, "It made her day."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Lainey Spencer, 3, uses the seat on her new bike as a temporary plate for her cookie Saturday afternoon at the annual Bikes for Tykes event at the North Central Correctional Facility. Her mom, Andrea Spencer helps her look through her stocking full of goodies while Honor, one of the service dogs trained at the facility, waits in case anything gets dropped.

Without the help of the annual program, there's little chance she would find a scooter, or her siblings a bike, under the tree.

"No way," Helmantoler said. "Thank goodness for this."

Cpt. Larry Raner, a correctional officer, started the program 13 years ago.

He said that the donated used bikes are repaired by a group of inmates. Half the funding for the bike parts comes from ABATE District 10 and the other from the Insiders program, which is an inmate program that raises funds through a monthly auction.

It's all done with volunteers.

"100 percent of the money we raise goes towards parts for the bikes," he said.

He said the program allows the inmates to give something back and helps them cope with a Christmas that won't include much time with their own family.

"A lot of these guys are parents," he said. "It's like doing something for their own kids."

Taylor Spencer, 8, of Webster City, was the first one to get to select a bike. She quickly got some help from inmate Leslie Rousseau with adjusting the seat.

Rousseau was happy to help.

"I wanted to do this because I have kids too," he said. "It's a way to give back to the community."

Once she was on her new ride, Spencer wasn't too sure which feature she liked best.

"I like it all," she said.

Her mom, Andrea Spencer, was grateful for the program. Two-wheeled presents would not have been under the tree without it.

"I can't afford it," she said.

Alisa Schlief, a family development specialist with Upper Des Moines Opportunity, said 25 children got bikes this year. She helps connect families with the program.

She enjoys the day too.

"We get to bring the kids and see their excitement," she said. "This is just awesome."

She said that for some families, this might be it.

"This may be their Christmas," she said.

In addition to the bikes, each child got a chance to visit with Santa and received a stocking full of goodies donated by the correctional officers. They also got to do something else that they couldn't do before - ride their new bikes back to the gate - with a smile.



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