KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and all month long FOX4 is highlighting positive impacts on local culture and communities.
We went to Olathe Public Schools where a lowrider program is helping students set lofty goals.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City opened inside the Olathe Advanced Technical Center not long ago. Although recent, its origin began two decades ago and has been one of the chamber’s most successful programs for several years.
One of the people responsible for opening this program is Erik Erazo who started as a security guard at Olathe Public Schools in 2003.
“I found that there were some kiddos that didn’t feel like they belonged, and the data showed that you need extra curriculars and mentoring,” Erazo said. “The hard part sometimes is to get kiddos to engage with those programs, so I figured maybe they would come for a bike.”
He’s now the school district’s Executive Director of Student and Community Engagement and has launched two flagship programs in Olathe now gaining momentum around the country. One an after school mentoring program and the other involves the Olathe Leadership Lowrider Bike Club.
Both target at-risk youth by providing mentorship and encourages students to maintain their personal identities.
Students work all through high school on customized Schwinn Stingray replica lowriders.
“We Meet at Olathe Advanced Technical Center we sand them we add metal, we bundle them, we weld them and we paint them,” Erazo continued.
At the end of the program the children get to keep the bike they put together. They just have to graduate.
What’s the graduation rate so far through a couple hundred students? 100 percent.
“The goal is to make sure kids have the opportunity to learn some skills,” Erazo added, “but also work with mentors and start thinking about the future, having that light at the end of tunnel get brighter so they can see a reason why to finish high school and get them to graduate.”
Those mentors include cops and the DEA. They even built a police cruiser for the police department, with their own faces on it.
“Our kids went from not being sure about cops, to completely having a great relationship with the police department,” Erazo said. “We believe in building bridges together.”
While those custom bikes may be the driving force behind the program, for Erazo it’s really a mentoring program. Putting a plan into motion to get students on the right path as they ride off on their own after graduation.
“Really allowing our kids to keep their cultural identity, while allowing them to reach their full potential and be successful,” he expressed.
The Leadership and Lowrider Bike Club now has chapters as far away as New Mexico. They also work with the Police Athletic League in Kansas City, Kansas and soon will be launching in Kansas City, Missouri.