As part of our Member Spotlight series, we spoke with Julianne Idlet, Founder of CYCLE Kids and member of The Yard: Lincoln Square, to see how she uses her passion to change the lives of students across the country. Back in 2004, Julianne noticed the alarming number of kids developing type II diabetes and decided to devote herself to educating and engaging kids in physical activity.
CYCLE Kids is a national organization with programs in eleven states and the Navajo Nation in Arizona, reaching 4,300 children each year and over 20,000 since inception. Since 2004, CYCLE Kids has engaged children in physical activity to address the health and emotional issues facing today’s children. Their work is focused on children living in communities whose lives are challenged by poverty. The program taps into the joy of the biking experience, giving these children a chance to feel happy and carefree and to build their self-confidence. It also gives them access to mentors who can help them overcome the challenges they face from living in poverty. Learning how to ride a bike is a life-changing moment for all children, but for some children, this can truly change the direction their lives will take.
What incident or observations inspired you to create CYCLE Kids?
I read about kids with type II diabetes and heart disease, and I thought it was horrendous that kids had adult diseases. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children, so I quit my corporate job in 2004 to start the organization. I had no idea the emotional impact the program would have.
What was the biggest struggle you faced in founding a non-profit?
My biggest struggle when launching CYCLE Kids was finding the courage to quit a stable, successful corporate career. Even though I was in the technology startup world, starting a non-profit felt daunting. I left the corporate world and worked part-time in the ichthyology lab at Harvard as a lab assistant. This included managing the lab budgets and resources, and even cleaning fish tanks and culling fish. This is what I did to support myself when I first started CYCLE Kids, but then I thought, if I am going to do this I need to be all in. I left my job as a lab assistant to focus solely on the CYCLE Kids mission. Initially, the program was about the importance of exercise and good nutrition, but it became much more than that; Providing a bicycle to a child in poverty is the first step to building a child’s confidence in themselves and allowing them to realize that they can do great things.
What significant event brought CYCLE Kids to the next level?
I took a train down to NYC to meet with the Children’s Aid Society to see if they would get involved with CYCLE Kids. Vito Interrante of the Children’s Aid Society was the first to listen to what I had to say. He asked me how much a program was, but at the time I didn’t have a number to give him. That was when I realized I could sell the programs and not teach them myself anymore. Vito was the first to buy two programs; the first NYC CYCLE Kids program launched in East Harlem at the Children’s Aid Society in 2008.
Describe to us what a normal day in the CYCLE Kids office is like.
There is no normal day in the office; every day is different. I do anything from writing grants to meeting with donors to opening programs and running the operations end of the business, but I am always focused on supporting children living in poverty across the country. The CYCLE Kids mission is to give kids a foundation of emotional support to make better choices down the line, and our goal is to make people aware of that.
What made you choose The Yard as your NYC headquarters?
I chose The Yard as my headquarters because of the flexibility of the space in terms of office size. The location in the Upper West Side is great; the front desk staff is amazing and supportive of all of the businesses here, and it is a great perk that I am able to bring my Bernese Mountain Dog to the office every day!
Where do you want CYCLE Kids to be in 5 years?
In a perfect world, every school in the country. But realistically, in every Navajo school on the Navajo Reservation.
Why the Navajo Schools?
The first time I visited a CYCLE Kids program in Navajo Nation, I met an 11-year old student I will never forget. We met on a 22-mile mountain bike ride through the desert surrounding his community. The wind was blowing the sand around, making it hard to see and pedal. Thinking he might need help, I rode with him. As we rode, this boy began to warm up to me. He told me about the spirit of the animals that lived on the land, about how to utilize the plants we saw, and even tried to teach me a few words of Diné, the Navajo language. He had a fierce determination to complete the ride. He told me he had to prove to himself he could do it. We laughed and talked about all kinds of things. Then, quietly, he told me about how his cousin had been killed just a few days before.
Riding a bike is magic. Not only is it a healthy activity physically, but emotionally too. Biking gave this child a way to work through his emotions and build his confidence. Confidence to make a new friend. Confidence to open up and share something that was troubling him.
Helping children discover this confidence is at the core of what we do at CYCLE Kids. Stories like this inspire us to grow and reach more children.
More information about CYCLE Kids can be found at www.cyclekids.org. They are always looking for partners to help them grow and reach more children!
Plus, get to know more members of The Yard’s vibrant community on the blog.