Last Thursday, long-time Kiwanis volunteer Bob Zimel helped fit helmets for students at Hollister Elementary School.

“Let’s get you the right fit,” Zimel said, adjusting the straps of a new pink helmet for three-year-old Janet Torres.

Just a week earlier on a bike trek south on the 101, Zimel, a retired aeronautical engineer and bike safety specialist, hit a curb and fell. His helmet – which cracked on impact – saved his life.

Longtime volunteer Bob Zimel helps fit a helmet for three-year-old Janet Torres.
Rhys Alvarado

“If I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I’d be dead. No question about it,” Zimel said. “I’m doing this because the kids need it.”

For the last two years, Joseph Schomer, a retired high-tech distributer, has run the program and led volunteers like Zimel through helmet distribution events. The group, in conjunction with the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST), has thus far has donated 2,800 helmets and taught a number of students and parents about proper helmet safety.

“It’s not a matter of if they’re going to get hurt, but when they’re going to get hurt,” Schomer said. “We’re just trying to save as many little heads as possible.”

While raising a son, a trick rider, Schomer spent his fair share of time in the ER. So for him, helmet safety is serious business. In the last 18 months, Kiwanis has held distribution events at 26 schools. Schomer has also been working alongside members at Cottage Hospital’s Trauma Center in an attempt to decrease the amount of riders who are admitted because they weren’t wearing a helmet.

According to Cottage Hospital, 65 percent of those admitted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Trauma Center in 2009 for bike, skateboard, scooter or roller blade-related injuries were not wearing helmets.

Because of Schomer’s efforts, every rider admitted to Cottage Hospital’s Trauma Center now leaves with a brand new helmet. New helmets, which go for about $50 a pop, go for a $10 donation through Kiwanis’s helmet distribution events. In hardship situations, COAST helps pay for the helmets. This is made possible by donations from caring individuals, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Goleta Valley Cycling Club.

“We don’t care who shows up,” Schomer said. “We just want people to wear their helmets more often.”

With the help of Cottage Hospital, Schomer also has the data to crunch numbers on when, where, and how people are getting into riding accidents. According to Schomer, riders are 28 percent more likely to be in a serious accident during the weekend and the most dangerous area to ride in Santa Barbara is downtown State Street all the way to the ocean front beach area.

Kim Feldhouse, whose children Joshua and Nathan are students at Hollister Elementary, have been getting helmets through the donation program for the last two years. This time around, Joshua, 12, who suffered a concussion just a couple weeks before, had his eyes set on a white 1080 helmet.

“It would have been a lot worse without a helmet,” his mother said.

Kim Stanley-Zimmerman of COAST coordinates the Safe Routes to School program and said that it’s clubs like these that that fill in the services that schools don’t offer.

“It’s one of those life skills that kids need to know and that schools might not teach,” Stanley-Zimmerman said.

After the remaining helmets had been stacked into Schomer’s van, Zimel, who missed last week’s distribution because of is recent accident, walked over to the donation desk to get his new red Tony Hawk helmet fit so that he could ride again.

“That’s a nice helmet you got there,” Schomer said to Zimel, who gave the kids first pick.

“Only problem is, they didn’t have it in blue,” Zimel replied cavalierly.

“Well it’s nice to have you back,” Schomer said.

“It’s good to be back,” Zimel nodded.


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