Jefferson Awards: Alameda Shop Owner Gets Kids Reading And Rolling

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GENE OH

ALAMEDA (CBS 5) – How do you get kids to read more? An Alameda business owner has encouraged hundreds of children with a two-wheeled incentive. Sharon Chin on this week’s Jefferson Award winner.

Books can teach lots of things, and Gene Oh is helping students at Henry Haight Elementary in Alameda fall in love with reading.

“Myself being a latchkey kid, I wanted to get kids off video games, off TV,” Gene explains. “I figured the best way to do that would be to educate kids about importance of reading, to get ‘em excited about reading.”

Gene has run “Books for Bikes” for the last three years to encourage kids to read for fun. He brings the program to all of Alameda’s nine public elementary schools by visiting half the schools each year.

“Even though it’s population 80,000 it still feels like Mayberry,” Gene says. “So for us, it’s important public schools take care of all our students, regardless of income, and give them a great education.”

For every two and a half hours of book reading, students get a raffle ticket, to become eligible for a prize. Gene gives away two bicycles per school and a helmet for every grade.

The coveted prizes come from Alameda Bicycle, the family business downtown which Gene took over in 2001. The prospect of wheels motivated second grader Zyrus Torres to read quite a bit last year.

“I got a red bike,” Zyrus says proudly. “There’s no training wheels.”

Gene says 40% of Alameda’s public elementary school students read more than 1800 hours in last year’s Books for Bikes program. It was a “happy ending” for Principal Margaret Harris, who says, “They were gravitated to stories and books with bicycles, and children with bicycles and sports. It’s opened up a whole new avenue of books and reading for the children.”

Through Alameda Bicycle, Gene also raises money for other charities, offers free bicycle riding and repair clinics for kids, and gives a $50 gift card to every nonprofit or school that asks for fundraising help.

Gene says, “The joy for me is feeling like I’m doing something to help the greater community.”

So for his community service and success in the Books for Bikes program, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Gene Oh.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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