Program rewards refugee students in Metro Detroit with bicycles for work in classroom

Bikes For Books focuses on refugees who now call Metro Detroit home

By Sandra Ali - Anchor/Reporter, Derick Hutchinson

DEARBORN, Mich. - Riding a bicycle might be something children take for granted, but some Metro Detroit students were given an opportunity to win a bicycle for the work they're doing in the classroom.

Bikes For Books is a program that rewards students for reading books. When Local 4 visited McCollough-Unis School in Dearborn, four students took home bicycles, and three were Syrian refugees.

Mahmoud Maki, the brains behind Bikes For Books, said he always wanted to give back to the community, but he didn't know how to until now.

"This program just landed in my lap and I ran with it, and the outcome's been tremendous," Maki said.

The program focuses on refugees who now call Metro Detroit home.

"In the past year and a half, 2,000 refugee kids that have come over from the Middle East or war-torn countries," Maki said. "Not necessarily just in Dearborn, but in the Wayne County area, or Michigan."

The idea behind Bikes For Books is simple: Refugees who are just starting to learn English are encouraged to read books. The more books they read, the better their chances of getting a new bicycle.

"You read a minimum of three books," Maki said. "From the books you get a raffle ticket. Every book you read past the three gives you an extra raffle ticket. From there, we come into the schools, pick a boy's name and a girl's name and they won bikes."

The bicycles are all donated by the community with help from the Dearborn Mason's Lodge.

"We support education," donator Ali Sayed said. "We support the development of these youth, and really oftentimes we forget, you know, to just celebrate the kids.

"Three out of the four kids were actually refugee kids that have come here from overseas from war-torn country Syria, Yemen. To see them smiling the way they smile, and to see them, you know, appreciate the fact that they've received a bike for doing something that they already loved to."

"For us to be able to commend those kids who have been doing their work and living their life like nothing happened last year, that's just been humbling," Maki said.

The winning students were from McCollough-Unis School.

"This is another opportunity to support literacy and reading and to have a little bit of fun and excitement with the students," superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko said.

Maki believes the key to success for the students is hard work and education.

"It says assimilation is key," Maki said. "I had a kid at one of the schools, a young boy, who goes to school an hour early. He's there at 7:30 and he leaves at 4:30 every day just so he can get ahead of the curve on his own."

"They have made amazing strides -- just the growth in their language and their socialization," assistant principal Linda Lazar said. "Students were coming up to me in the lunchroom, 'Mrs. Lazar, I read another book. Here's my raffle ticket.' So, I mean, we want them to love reading, and every once in awhile, it's nice to be able to reward them for that hard work and give them an avenue to really motivate them."

Organizers estimate students participating read more than 33,000 books this past school year.

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