Santa Rosa middle school students buy bicycle helmets for kids who lost homes in the wildfires

Slater Middle School students have teamed up with Rohnert Park businessman Mark Pippin to brighten the holidays for some 400 children impacted by October’s wildfires.

Students in Sandi Martin’s leadership classes have been raising money to buy helmets to hand out as part of a bicycle giveaway just before Christmas to kids who lost homes in Coffey Park and Mark West Springs. Pippin, the owner of Innovative Screen Printing and Embroidery, is purchasing the new bikes.

Pippin, who has been organizing bicycle giveaways for seven years now, is working with the Piner-Olivet and Mark West school districts to identify kids who lost homes. They’ll get the bikes, as well as T-shirts and pajamas during an event at Santa Rosa’s Epicenter sports and entertainment center on Dec. 22.

“These are children who lost everything,” Martin said. “They lost their homes. Their toys. Their bicycles and helmets. If we can bring a little joy into their lives during the holiday season, this is an easy, simple way.”

The Parent Teacher Organization pledged $2,000 to buy helmets, which cost about $20 apiece, Martin said. Her students also have raised $2,300, turning to family, neighbors and businesses for donations.

Eighth-graders Sydney Rouleau and Jessie Welch, both 13, recently set up a booth and signs outside an Oliver’s market, where they collected $250 within a few hours. The girls said this project is personal. They have friends and relatives who lost homes in the wildfires.

“Nobody expected this to happen. It’s unreal,” said Rouleau, whose grandparents fled their home near Maria Carrillo High School in the middle of the night after the Tubbs fire erupted Oct. 8. The blaze came about a block from their home, she said.

The leadership classes handed out clothing to fire victims shortly after the blazes broke out, said Martin, who’s teaching her students they can make a difference here at home and overseas. Her leadership students have worked with a Kenyan orphanage over the years, helping the raise money for books, wells and a grain mill.

To donate to their helmet project, checks made payable to the Slater PTO also can be dropped off at Slater Middle School at 3500 Sonoma Ave. In addition to cash donations, Martin said her students also collecting helmets, but they must be new and in their boxes.

“We just want them to be happy this holiday season and really feel loved and safe,” Welch said about the children receiving the helmets and bikes.

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