The 100 gleaming new bicycles that arrived Wednesday morning at Park Elementary School were an ill-kept secret by the time children filled the school auditorium.
“They knew something was up,” Principal Jessica Brister said, “but they didn’t know who was going to get them.”
The 100 children who walked into the auditorium ended up going home with those bicycles, boys taking the red and black ones and the girls opting for the silver and pink ones.
Brister told the children they were getting the recognition for their high attendance rates and she hopes the reward will encourage other students to follow their example.
“We want to be able to give away 435 bikes,” she said, citing the school’s current enrollment.
The source of this largesse is Universal Surveillance Systems, or USS, a retail security company based in a Los Angeles suburb, and its generous founder Adel Sayegh.
In the past year, the company’s charitable foundation has given bicycles to hundreds of schools in poor communities throughout the nation.
The foundation grew out of a visit Sayegh made to Zambia in southern Africa. After learning that children would often walk four or five miles to school, he decided to give away bicycles.
Ron Holm, a senior vice president with USS, told Park Elementary children that Sayegh grew up one of 10 children in a poor home and is committed to removing obstacles that prevent children from growing up to be the success that he’s become.
“You can be whatever you want to be,” Holm said.
Louella Givens was all smiles as her granddaughter Mikaya, 8, sat on her new bicycle. Givens said Mikaya’s father, and her son, also attended Park Elementary years ago, but she doesn’t remember the school doing anything this nice for the children.
“This is a poor school and they really, really need it,” Givens said.
Haley Stafford said she hopes her son Treavion, 5, draws a simple lesson from the gift: “Good work and good grades pay off.”
How much any of these children end up using their new gifts is an open question.
At one point, Holm asked the children how many of them had received a bike before. Almost every hand went up.
“Well, you’ve got another one now,” he said.
Brister said she expects that most children will use their new bikes at home, not to ride to school, for fear the bikes will get stolen.
Rather than ride their bikes, she said, “a lot of our children walk to school.”