Christmas morning for children is about unexpected gifts. For 25 children in Wyandanch, the surprise presents came a week earlier and in a way they never expected.
The children, age 8 to 12, were told they were going to help build bicycles for needy children in their community. With the help of adults, they assembled the bikes and proudly stood next to them waiting for the children to arrive and receive their gifts.
Then came the announcement: The bikes were actually for them.
It took a few seconds, but the dropped jaws and looks of confusion slowly gave way to shouts and tears of joy.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” screamed Tyrese Rich, 9, as he pumped his fists, jumped up and down and then excitedly swung his leg over the seat of his new red and white Pacific mountain bike.
The nonprofit D’Brickashaw Ferguson Foundation, teaming up with First AME Church of Wyandanch and the Wyandanch Family Life Center, created the ruse. The foundation was started in 2007 by Jets offensive left tackle and Freeport native D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
In addition to scholarships, food banks and other charitable endeavors in underserved communities, the Chalfont, Pennsylvania-based foundation in 2010 began the Build-A-Bike program. The foundation has so far given away about 250 bikes, according to Ed Ferguson, foundation chairman and father of the founder.
The event helps children learn the value of teamwork and giving, he said, but also it’s a building block to a stronger community.
“If you help one kid and make them happy, then it makes the family happy and happy families make for a happy community,” he said.
Before they were let in on the true nature of their bike-building, the kids assembled in the Family Life Center gym said they were happy to help needy children. Sherice Jones, 10, said it was “kind of hard” putting the bike together but that she “wanted to do this because I really care about people less fortunate than us and I want them to have something nice.”
The group was selected based on economic needs by First AME Church and the Family Life Center. A church member, Eva Crews, donated the bike helmets.
The Rev. Constance Carter-England, the church’s pastor, said many parents in the community struggle. “They want for their children just like any other parent,” she said. “But they don’t have the money to buy bikes.”
Ikeyia Mann, 30, said her daughter Tynia, 11, a member of the group, had been asking for a bike since earlier this year.
“It was a nice charitable event that turned into something that the kids could really appreciate,” she said. She said her daughter didn’t know how to ride a bike, but she would learn and “as long as she follows the safety part of riding, we’ll be OK!”
Trinity DeTiege, 11, has a child’s bicycle, said her father, Rene DeTiege, 56, but now she’s “got a bike just like her big sister’s.”
“They tricked us,” he said laughing. “But her mother and I always try to teach her and her siblings that it’s a blessing to give, and I think this was a great opportunity for kids to learn how to share and to give.”