Foster kids need their freedom, too. On MLK Day, a gift of bicycle could help them find it

Thanks to a grant from the State of College of Florida, dozens of area foster care children were able to smile on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as part of a MLK Day of Service event.

About 60 volunteers, including children, spent Monday morning at the Manatee Charter School in east Bradenton assembling dozens of bicycles ranging from small tricycles to 10-speeds. Foster kids arrived to the event expecting to play some games, and ended up with something so much more.

For some, it was the first time in awhile that anyone had seen them smile.

“Today is a chance to allow these kids to be kids again,” said Michel Connizzo, president of the Manatee County Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, which provides support to foster care families — children and adults — to connect and grow.

“A lot of them are going through a hard time and don’t have a lot to be happy about,” Connizzo said.

Manatee County sees almost twice as many children enter the foster care system than surrounding counties and there is always a strain on the system and a need for community involvement, whether it’s becoming a foster parent or just helping out the various missions that support foster children.

Sometimes it’s as simple as providing pajamas because, “often, the child comes into the system wearing nothing but the clothes on their back,” Connizzo said. “Those emergency situations can happen for a variety of reasons, but they are often traumatic. We understand that not everyone is in a position to be a foster parent, but we want people to know there are many ways to help these children.”

You can visit their Facebook page or call 941-400-3140 to learn more about the program.

Manatee Charter School opened its doors on the holiday to host the event. Anna Frank, the school’s operations administrator said, “I’m really happy to be able to be here for this and the staff we have here today really wanted to be a part of this special day for these children.”

The grant helped to achieve the goals of the day and so much more. Initially, the goal was just to be able to get the older kids bikes.

And there is a heartbreaking reason to be able to achieve that goal.

“By the time a foster child reaches the age of 13, they become less likely to get go anywhere until they age out,” Connizzo said. “That’s why critical life skill training begins at that age and having a bicycle to get around town, go to school or a job is made a lot easier with the freedom of having a bicycle. For the younger kids, it’s more of a rite of passage getting your first bicycle, but for the older kids, it becomes a necessity.”

In May of 2018, the Manatee Community Foundation launched FosterManatee.org in an effort to recruit more foster parents to meet the ongoing need and there other agencies that need help in other capacities including:

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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