Living a life in service to the immigrant community
Isabel Rodriguez, Summit County program manager at The Cycle Effect, helps the organization improve the lives of local girls through important lessons in life and mountain biking
Brought to you by FirstBank
By providing an opportunity for girls to be engaged in regular, healthy programs that help build their self-esteem and promote overall wellness, girls are more likely to be healthier, stay engaged in school and set goals that will support their future. The Cycle Effect in Summit County works with girls on mountain biking skills that translate to important life skills. For more information, visit thecycleeffect.org or call 970-306-7572.
As a teacher and family liaison at Dillon Valley Elementary School, Isabel Rodriguez met with dozens of immigrant families in Summit County to learn about their often grueling journeys to the United States. She met families from Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, El Salvador, Uzbekistan and other countries.
As an immigrant herself — her parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 8 years old, crossing the border illegally and living undocumented for about five years until her father obtained citizenship — she knows first-hand what these families are going through.
“Every time I meet a parent, I see my mom, I see my dad, and I see the hard choices they had to make to provide a better future for us,” Rodriguez said.
Because of her perspective, success and passion working with immigrant families, The Cycle Effect knew she’d be the perfect program manager in Summit County. The nonprofit works to empower local girls through physical wellness, community impact and mentorship. Its programming focuses on mountain biking as the means to build these skills.
Impactful community work
While The Cycle Effect’s programs are open to all girls, Rodriguez said the organization is committed to working with the Latina population in Summit County. The Cycle Effect hopes to address inequities and reduce gaps in accessibility, as well as diversify a sport dominated by white males.
“We want to make sure that the young women who are growing up in the mountains — especially immigrants and daughters of immigrants — and call this their home can also call mountain biking a part of their culture and lives,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez had developed a dance program for children in grades K through 5 at Dillon Valley Elementary — it’s this work, combined with an influx of immigrants to the community in the fall of 2019, that led to her role as the school’s family liaison for immigrant families. In 2018, Rodriguez won the Summit Foundation’s Outstanding Youth Mentor award for her work.
She was eventually invited to speak during a church service in Dillon about building these culturally diverse programs and relationships with young students when a board member for The Cycle Effect took notice.
“He wanted to find a way for me to continue this important work and utilize all of these connections I had formed, and also get paid for it,” Rodriguez said.
With a dance background and no mountain biking experience, she wasn’t sure she was right for the role, but soon realized it was the impact of the organization — not the means through which that impact is achieved — that made it the right fit.
“We work with fifth through 12th grade girls, and a lot of them had been through my second grade class and my dance program so I already had relationships with many of them and their families,” she said.
Building trust and other life skills
The Cycle Effect teaches girls life skills through mountain biking that last long beyond the end of the trail. Rodriguez said this past season, they hired a coach from Costa Rica who was just learning English, and hired another coach who was a first-time mountain biker.
“It helps let the girls know that you’re not the only ones learning these skills for the first time,” Rodriguez said. “That has created a lot of trust within our team.”
Mentorship is a theme at every Cycle Effect practice. The staff works to create relationships with the girls so they can face challenges together and build collaboration.
“When you have a team supporting you and waiting for you, and cheering you on to make it to the top of the hill, there’s so much camaraderie,” she said. “And it helps them set goals and work through stress. Maybe this time I didn’t make it to the top in one try, but next time I’ll try to make it farther. These are strategies they can use and apply to their lives outside the sport.”
‘More than just mountain biking’
The most important work The Cycle Effect does is build confidence in its members. Rodriguez said hearing their success stories is what drives her every day.
“A lot of them come in thinking they’ve never done this before, so we start them off in a parking lot. We show them how to check the chain, work with the breaks, etc., to build that confidence and independence on the bike before we even get to the trail,” she said. “There are so many things we’re afraid of, but by the end of the season we’re trying it, we feel more confidence, more trust in ourselves, and once we do that we’re unstoppable.”
One of The Cycle Effect’s members recently told Rodriguez that she noticed she was talking to herself while trying to get up a hard hill, but she had noticed the talk had switched from negative to positive. Instead of being hard on herself, she was now being patient with herself.
“All of those small success stories really energize all of us,” Rodriguez said. “They experience that and it keeps them coming back. This is way more than just mountain biking.”
FirstBank is committed to supporting the people and organizations that make our communities thrive. This is the second of four FirstBank-sponsored articles spotlighting the extraordinary work happening here in Summit County.
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