Riding a bike for the first time is a quintessential childhood experience for many people. Unfortunately, some are raised in circumstances where buying a bicycle isn’t a possibility. But thanks to United Way and hundreds of volunteers, dozens of children are riding newly built bikes for the summer.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania hosted its sixth annual Build-A-Bike event this June at Heinz Field. The fundraiser, sponsored by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Northwestern Bank, saw 400 volunteers gather in Heinz Field’s UPMC Club to build bikes for underprivileged youths across Southwestern Pennsylvania. About 150 kids worked with teams of volunteers to assemble and test their new Huffy bicycles. The kids were also given bike locks, helmets and personalized license plates.

The Community College of Allegheny County sent its own group of 10 volunteers to the Build-A-Bike event. CCAC Administrative Assistant April Cole believes the wellness committee and United Way share a common purpose, which led to the partnership.

“One of the strategic goals of the college is to have a positive impact on the community around Allegheny,” Cole says.

Part of that impact is creating opportunities for these kids to live healthier lives. Those bikes are not only nice gifts but great resources for growth. Cole mentioned Allegheny’s own efforts in developing more commutable walk/bike paths, as well as the work of organizations like Bike Pittsburgh, which have widened access to biking information and training around Allegheny County. These bikes are just the beginning of a possible long-term investment in our children’s physical well-being.

Despite what the name implies, the process of assembly is only half the magic of Build-A-Bike. The rest of the time allows volunteers to connect with kids and be positive role models for the soon-to-be bikers. From discussing bike safety to asking about summer plans, this was an important chance for volunteers to reach their community at its most impressionable form. These kids are sure to be riding their bikes all summer long, so setting them on the right path will only add to the possible benefits.

Build-A-Bike had its own intrinsic rewards for the volunteers, too. While the event was a good team-building experience for the CCAC wellness committee members, the satisfaction of seeing joyful children riding their new bikes was one of a kind.

Build-A-Bike’s impression on Southwestern Pennsylvania cannot be understated — a single bicycle is enough to transform one’s childhood for the better. Whether they pedal their way into a future marathon or just pickup cycling as a hobby, that first bike will lay the groundwork for a healthy tomorrow. It’s safe to say that these kids will remember this summer for a very long time.