Recognition was not what Gordy VanHaitsma had in mind when he started the Read to Ride program in his Grand Rapids, Mich., neighborhood.
So VanHaitsma, a member of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, was surprised to be voted one of People magazine’s All-Stars Among Us for his efforts to encourage literacy by linking inner-city kids, books, and bicycles.
Mr. Gordy, as he is known by local children, acquires and restores secondhand bicycles, which he offers to students who read 15 books. He requires that students’ teachers approve the books and verify that they have been read.
VanHaitsma, who works as a custodian for Grand Rapids Christian Schools, has matched more than 100 bikes with students over the past five years. He said he decided a long time ago that every child should have a bike to ride—but that it’s more important for children to learn to read and write.
“They can go a little way on a bike,” he says, “but they can’t go very far in life if they can’t read. That’s how I came up with the idea. I’ll do almost anything to get kids to read.”
Read to Ride doesn’t need widespread attention to thrive, VanHaitsma says, and the recent publicity matters only if it inspires similar efforts to encourage children to read.
“I don’t need bikes, I don’t need money, I don’t need anything,” he says. “But if somebody else would be interested in doing it somewhere else, that would be fantastic.”
Rev. Beth Guikema-Bode of Fuller Avenue CRC says VanHaitsma models the passion and love for Jesus that the church seeks to bring to the neighborhood.
“We are so proud of him,” she says, “and delighted that he can be an inspiration for others.”
VanHaitsma was honored along with the other 29 nationwide recipients of the award at this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif.