It’s cheap, healthy, fun and good for the planet.
When it comes to riding a bicycle, what’s not to love?

That’s why Ecology Action’s Every Fifth Grader campaign is so amazing: It goes out into schools to make sure children get the skills they need to be comfortable – and safe – on two wheels. And now Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, which has signed on as a sponsor of the Every Fifth Grader campaign, is helping even more kids learn those essential safety skills.

More than 24,000 Santa Cruz County students have taken part in Ecology Action’s bike safety education programs since 2004, empowering them with skills that last a lifetime and help build enduring habits toward better health … and a healthier planet.

That bike safety training is more needed than you’d expect: One in every three fifth graders doesn’t actually know how to ride a bike, says Kirsten Liske, Ecology Action’s vice president for community programs. Others may lack the confidence and practice to do so safely, or they don’t own properly fitting helmets. And these days, almost none of those kids has received any safety training for riding on public streets or around vehicle traffic, despite disproportionately high rates of car accidents involving young cyclists and pedestrians in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, according to the state’s Office of Traffic Safety.

“There are certain parts of Watsonville and Salinas where you are seeing a lot more incidents of accidents of kids on bikes against cars,” says Jennifer Lape, director of fund development and philanthropy for Ecology Action. “We really saw that there’s this need; they’re not getting the safety training they need.”

With the support of state and federal grants, Ecology Action has been able to bring its bike safety education program to lots of kids. But when you look at the crash data, rising obesity rates and the number of students that have as yet not gone through the program, there’s work yet to do. Ecology Action has set a goal of reaching every fifth grader in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. But with enough grant funding to reach just half the students in Salinas, Marina and Seaside, the organization started looking for new partnerships, private donations and business sponsorships to make Every Fifth Grader a reality for all.

Ecology Action has already built a strong foundation of partnerships, working with the City of Salinas, Monterey County, Transportation Agency for Monterey County, Community Foundation of Monterey County, Monterey Peninsula Foundation and school districts across the region. Liske reached out to MBEP for help in finding additional partners.

“Ecology Action asked me if there were other MBEP members that I could connect them to in Monterey County that might be interested in getting involved in their bike initiative,” says MBEP President Kate Roberts. “Connecting them to a prominent health sector leader was a no-brainer, as I knew they would realize the important health benefits of such a program.” So Kate introduced Liske to Steve Packer, President and CEO of Montage Health, the parent company of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. “They met with Steve and his team, who were really excited about what Ecology Action was doing, and thought it was a good fit for their mission.”

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s sponsorship, through its Community Giving program which awards grants of up to $10,000, is a perfect fit for the health care provider as a means to boost public health and prevent traumatic brain injuries. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s support will ensure a properly-fitted bike helmet for any kid who needs one, along with a branded sticker. On average, kids who ride their bikes are getting an additional 24 minutes of physical activity a day, and studies show that they are able to focus better in school. Plus, says Lape, “it creates connections to their community, and who doesn’t love the wind in their hair?”

“We’re super excited about Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula’s partnership,” says Liske. “Ecology Action went from being able to serve 10 percent of students in the region to about 50 percent. That’s the type of business sponsorship that we can use.”

She hopes to build additional partnerships with businesses, public agencies and individuals interested in sponsorships and volunteering, particularly in Monterey County. By facilitating connections between its members, MBEP is helping forge alliances and further positive change across the region.

Those opportunities for recognizing synergies between members aren’t uncommon with MBEP, says Roberts, and by helping connect MBEP member organizations whose missions align, there’s often a fast, more efficient path to results. “Literally, this happens several times a week for me.”

“Kate’s been really wonderful in connecting us – we wouldn’t have had the opportunity without the introduction,” says Liske. “MBEP’s staff is kind of the center of the hub, and they are really proactive and helpful in connecting people.”