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Free Bikes From Cops 'Bridge a Gap'

TurningWheels for Kids donates free bicycles to groups such as the Sheriff's office to give away to underprivileged kids.

For Sgt. Jose Cardoza, Santa Clara County Sheriff spokesman, a typical day is filled with talking to the press about crimes and bad guys. Rarely does he have an opportunity to show off his pearly whites to the press, as he did Monday morning when smile was just about all Cardoza did while handing out free bicycles to teenagers from San Jose's Alum Rock Youth Center.

Courtesy of TurningWheels for Kids, a non-profit group that provides bicycles for underprivileged kids in the Bay Area, the Sheriff's office had 25 bikes to give away. Retired Capitola police officer Dana Van Den Heuvel wrote the grant that brought the bikes to the Sheriff's department, an opportunity—cops giving away cool bikes to disadvantaged kids—she sees as a way to "bridge a gap" between cops and kids; a relationship builder, she said.

"It gives them a chance to see that we're not all bad," she said.

Sheriff Laurie Smith used the time to try and get one young woman interested in the County's Youth Cadet program.

Alondra Estrada, 15, dressed in skinny jeans and a sweet smile decorated with teal-colored braces came with her grandmother to pick up a bright blue bike tricked out with hot pink and white—Alondra would have preferred the whole bike to be her favorite color pink, but said she wasn't about to complain; it was cool the way it was.

Alondra listened intently as youth cadet Christina Vaiasicca, 21, talked about the community involvement cadets are given, such as participating in role play scenarios with the police academy, or in operations such as , where cadets act as decoys to find adults who are willing to buy alcohol for underage kids.

Alondra said this wasn't her first bike but she hasn't had one since she was much younger and she's excited to get this one, which she plans to ride to her cousin's house. Like Alondra, 15-year-old Daniel Castrejon has plans to ride his bike to visit a nearby relative. Daniel's aunt lives about a 20 minute walk from his home, but the bike will cut that time in half, he said.

TurningWheels has been around since 2003 and held its annual Bike Build on Dec. 10 which brought out 850 volunteers who put together 2,500 bikes for kids who otherwise may not have a gift this holiday season.

People such as Roy Lord of Cupertino who got involved in this year's bike build when he was looking for a place to donate some bicycles a couple years ago, he said.

He dropped by the bike build last year just to see what was going on and what it was all about and decided this was an organization he wanted to contribute to.

"Last year we did go down the day of the bike build. I saw this building full of activity. I just wanted to be part of it," he said.

Corporations such as Seagate get involved, too, sending teams of employees to work together to build bikes as well as contribute financially to the purchase of the bikes.

Dan Jennings, a mountain biker himself who has participated in the build three years, sees the bike build from a multi-tasking standpoint.

It's an extension of his own interests and as the director of operations and process engineering, it's a good use of his skill set, too. But he takes it a step beyond that and uses the activity as a team building exercise for employees in his group, he said.

In the high-tech industry teams can spend months or years working on a project to achieve something that to some may seem intangible. The bike build is immediate gratification that includes a bonding process as the team works together to provide something for someone less fortunate.

By the end of the day there is a "sea of bikes" at one end of the warehouse, Jennings said, and after a few hours trucks that show up to collect the finished bikes for distribution to places such as the Santa Clara County Sheriff's office.

Cardoza was among those with a truck to collect the 25 bikes he and Smith watched roll out of Sheriff's headquarters in San Jose Monday—as much a gift to them as to those who received the bikes, they said.

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