RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 26

community connections
ous locations around the city—an orga-
nizational “open house,” of sorts—and
regularly invite newcomers on rides.
Currently, the youngest member is less
than 10 years old, and the oldest is more
than 60.
“ ere is a ‘leave no woman behind’
philosophy,” says Berte. “No matter
who you are, there is something for you
within e Bellas.”
In addition to holding regular rides
and events, the group provides a men-
toring component in which members
reach out to their friends and families
and encourage the women in their lives
to pick up their bikes once more. Rides
are held around Milwaukee, from trails
to city streets and beyond.
Of course, the group rides help moti-
vate e Bella Donnas to spend more
miles in the saddle, but the benefits go
beyond mere distance. Learning
ride with others is an important skill for
cyclists, and members teach newcomers
about proper technique and etiquette
when riding in a group.
Imilkowski says the group has
evolved far beyond just biking. Bella
Donnas have developed close personal
bonds; they are bridesmaids at each oth-
er’s weddings and godmothers for each
other’s children. “ e connections made
from e Bella Donnas truly permeate
into all parts of our lives,” she adds.
And it’s both the social and
educational aspects that have
sealed the deal for Berte, who’s
made some incredible personal
achievements during her time
with the group. In the past six
years, she’s lost weight, learned
how to ride with clipless pedals,
completed triathlons and met
her target of 70 miles ridden in
a single day.
She states, “Sometimes, it
felt like I bit off more than I
could chew, but e Bellas were
there, saying, ‘If you want to go
for something, I’ll be here, and
I’ll do it with you.’ What an
incredible gift that is.”
Getting Girls in Gear
A formidable group of young women
travels the streets of Columbus. Helmet
clad, they roll through town on their
bikes, searching for sidewalks and bike
lanes and assessing street lighting. ey
know the names of the city council mem-
bers who represent them, and you may
find them behind a microphone at a town
hall meeting advocating for the local bicy-
cling movement. ey also help cyclists
themselves; they can fix a flat bike tire
without giving it a second thought.
ey are an impressive group. Oh, and
they’re in middle school!
ese young women are graduates
of Girls in Gear, an eight-week bicycle
training and empowerment program
for females ages 9 to 15. Since the pro-
gram began two years ago, it has had a
major impact; so far, 21 girls have com-
pleted the course and earned a bike upon
e crew’s leader is Jessica Mathews,
Safe Routes to School program manager
for the Columbus-based bike advocacy
organization Consider Biking (
). According to Mathews, the
idea for Girls in Gear came to her several
years ago while she was performing walk-
ing audits for middle schools throughout
Columbus. On those outings, she noticed
how the students reacted, or didn’t react,
to the surrounding marginalized neigh-
borhoods, characterized by vacant houses,
trash-lined streets and landscapes domi-
nated by blight.
“What I sensed from the kids was that
they were immune to that environment,”
Mathews says. “ ey felt like it was OK
to be surrounded by those things—that
that’s just the way it was going to be.”
is inspired Mathews to take action,
and Girls in Gear was born. e goal: to
build confidence, self-esteem and self-reli-
ance in participants, while showing them
that they could have a voice in how their
streets and neighborhoods were designed
and cared for. “I wanted to expand their
Ride, Women, Ride
When Carmen Berte met e Bella
Donnas (
Milwaukee’s self-described “premier
all-girl, noncompetitive, mentoring and
motivational cycling group,” in 2008,
she wasn’t sure it was the right place for
her. Berte wanted to train with a group
for her first triathlon, but at 56, she
thought she was too old for e Bella
Her hesitation didn’t last long. Bella
Donna Founder Jillian Imilkowski
greeted her with enthusiasm and
warmth, and Berte knew she had made
an important connection. “It turns out,
it was
where I needed to be,” she
says. “I found a new home. And the rest
is history.”
Imilkowski created e Bella Donnas
in 2007 in response to the relative
lack of recreational and educational
women’s cycling groups in Milwaukee.
What started as a group of five friends
morphed into a community of more
than 300 female riders with varying lev-
els of skill and expertise. Imilkowski set
an inclusive tone, and “ e Bellas” have
maintained that attitude of acceptance
and support as the group has blossomed.
ey host introductory sessions at vari-
An outing of “The Bellas”
1...,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 27,28,29,30,31,32
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