The numbers are impressive: more than 4,000 pounds of food donated to local food pantries, 80 kids sponsored to attend statewide summer sports camps (typically a $1,200 fee per child), 8,500 hours in dedicated community service and more than 40 area sports competitions.
All these accomplishments can be claimed by The Right Direction Youth Development Program, a 10-year-old nonprofit based in Bowling Green, Ohio that builds kids’ talents in action sports while teaching them life skills for tomorrow.
And they’re just getting started, according to Right Direction Founder and Executive Director Don DiBartolomeo.
“We get 15-20 inquiries per week” for kids to get involved in their sports programs, he explained. Kids can be referred to the program by parents or counselors, and many families make contact through their digital channels.
Today some kids from the program have become professional athletes around the nation.
Taking a nontraditional route
Many young people show interest in “non-traditional” action sports, such as mountain biking, inline skating, skateboarding and BMX biking, according to DiBartolomeo. Where parents might be familiar with traditional sports (like baseball and football), “they don’t understand the structure of action sports,” he said. As a result, kids practice and make their way on their own. “They do the hard work to develop their own discipline in that sport and make their own life experiences too.”
The Right Direction is led by professional athletes who mentor the kids throughout their involvement. If a kid wants to get involved, he or she need only show up.
“We provide the bike and equipment, and then we teach them to ride,” DiBartolomeo said. “Then the kids organize and teach the next classes.”
In addition to learning how to ride, Right Direction’s teams offer positive messages to their students, including helmet safety, drug and tobacco free initiatives, anti-bullying and healthy lifestyles.
Participants also have a critical role in the programs themselves. In addition to designing and leading sports demonstrations and competitions, they help with many other things within the organization.
“We find a place for these kids, no matter what they want to do,” DiBartolomeo said. They have helped with the design of jerseys used by the teams, and the advertisements and flyers used to promote their fundraisers. “Kids are at the core” of everything The Right Direction is doing, he said. While the kids are using their skills, they’re also building socialization skills.
Reaching the community
The Right Direction develops activities that extend the impact of existing programs into the community. “We work with communities on the programming they’ve already begun,” DiBartolomeo said. Current projects they’ve participated in have included a pump track near the Slippery Elm Trail in Rudolph, a skate park in Bowling Green, and skills course development with Metroparks Toledo.
They’ve also introduced their participants to greater riding environments with a variety of events around the region. The proceeds of most of the group’s events fund The Right Direction’s bike initiative, which raises funds to purchase bikes for kids in the program. They’re planning to give away a total of more than 30 bikes in 2022.
From a start/finish line at Earnest Brew Works in downtown Toledo, the RAT (Ride Across Toledo) Ride sends participants on both sides of the Maumee River in a 15-mile course. Their May event drew more than 100 participants, and they expected twice that in September.
They’re also holding their fundraiser BIKEtoberFEST on October 2 at HEAVY Wheelhouse in the Beach Ridge Area of Oak Openings Metropark, and a Tricks For Treats event October 22 at the Bowling Green Skate Park.