PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In a damp back alley, far from the pomp and circumstance of graduation celebrations in gyms throughout the state, seven students received an opportunity that they hope will take them far in life.
With helmets on their heads, and bright smiles on their faces, the young men and women - the first graduates of the New Resident Bicycle Education Program, received certificates commending them for completing the four week course.
"Even though I've been riding bikes, I didn't know many rules you know in the roads, especially in America," explained Hugues Ingabire. He moved to Maine last August, survived his first winter here, and now wants to see more of his new home.
"I wanted to know how can somebody ride carefully, and you know try to avoid accidents and stuff," he said.
With limited transportation options, the program not only provided instruction to help them safely navigate the roads, it also gave them everything they need to bike to school, the grocery store, work and beyond.
"Bicycles give them another opportunity to get from A to B, but to also learn the city, navigate the city, become more integrated citizens of our community," stated Nathan Hagelin, a licensed cycling instructor who helped organize the program.
"We got all the materials we needed and just went with it," said Hagelin. "I didn't get a single no. If I was brazen enough to ask, the need was met."
The bikes were rebuilt and refurbished by students at the Westbrook Rehab N' Cycling Hub (WRENCH), located at the Westbrook Regional Vocation Center. The Community Cycling Club of Portland provided locks, a floor pump, and helmets. TheBicycle Coalition of Maine provided instructor support, helmets and lights and AMEC Environment and Infrastructure gave the students a place to store the bikes and a place for classroom instruction.
"I was afraid there would be challenges with language, and I was afraid there would be challenges with just basic things like showing up on time, but there weren't," he said. "They beat me here every Saturday. They are so appreciative."
Hagelin says the success of this pilot program has set the wheels in motion to expand the program to include more people. He hopes to be able to hold another class later this summer.