Building Bikes to Help Rebuild Lives - NBC Southern California

Building Bikes to Help Rebuild Lives

Young adults organize a non-profit to bring self-assurance and healthy habits to foster kids.

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    A non-profit is not just taking a cross-country vacation. They are driving cross-country to make the lives of foster children just a little bit better. (Published Wednesday, July 20, 2011)

    A non-profit is not just taking a cross-country vacation. Its members are driving cross-country to make the lives of foster children just a little bit better.

    Danny Mendoza -- the founder and president of the Together We Rise, a non-profit that strives to improve the lives of American foster children -- and five other volunteers are taking a two-week road-trip to deliver and assemble more than 1,000 children's bicycles to foster homes.

    Together We Rise will work with foster children in 15 states between California and Florida to assemble their own free bikes.

    "We decided to get the kids involved on the process so they have ownership and some sense of responsibility," Mendoza said. "Not only are they riding a bike, they put it together themselves."

    Foster children are 20 percent more likely to be obese than other non-foster care children, Mendoza said.

    Mendoza said he hopes that the bikes will not only encourage children to stay active but also will also build confidence and self-esteem among foster children.

    "They are kids that have been through a lot," Mendoza said. "(Some have been) abused. They have been involved with drugs. Their parents neglect them. They have been sexually molested."

    Mendoza's motivation to create this non-profit was close to home. He started Together We Rise after one of his own family members went into foster care.

    "My cousin was 9-years-old and living in a car," Mendoza said. "It doesn't really hit you until it's someone in your family."

    In 2008, Mendoza tried to help out in a group home, but he was told that at age 19, he was too young.

    He then decided to come up with his own non-profit so he could personally change the lives of foster children.

    And just a few years later, Mendoza is now able to travel across the country and to impact foster children inside and outside of Los Angeles.

    "We do it just because we saw the need," Mendoza said. "We saw how horrible the foster care system is. It's a problem that's kind of hidden because it's a government problem."

    Driving across the country and assembling more than 1,000 bikes in two weeks can be tiring, but for Mendoza, it's all about putting a smile on a child's face.

    "I just hope to make a lot of kids happy," Mendoza said. "That's my goal."