NEW BEDFORD — Instead of spending summer spinning their wheels, city youths are riding bicycles and exploring the world beyond their neighborhoods through a program based in the city’s South End.
Trips for Kids New Bedford brings youths ages 9 to 16 to the warming house at Victory Park, where they spend a week riding bicycles to varied locations, including the beach, the School for Marine Science and Technology at Fort Taber, and even the garden on the property.
The program, in its eleventh year, aims to “broaden kids’ horizons and help them develop a healthy perspective,’’ said JoAnn Tschaen, who founded the New Bedford chapter with her brother Dan Tschaen.
Trips for Kids is a national program that aims to provide children with challenging opportunities, mentoring relationships and educational experiences not otherwise available to them.
Activities at the New Bedford program include snorkeling on East Beach, catching puffer fish by net and placing them in a fish tank at the warming house and touching starfish and other marine life at the School for Marine Science and Technology at Fort Taber.
That made a particular impression on Jizaiah Lopes, 12. “I always wanted to see a starfish in person,’’ he said. “I got to do that, and it was bigger than my hand.’’
Not every experience is that exotic. Some children spoke enthusiastically of trips to the garden, where vegetables were cultivated and transformed into healthy snacks by Gina Bourassa, a staff member whose homemade kale chips were a particular favorite, she said. “I got a lot of hugs,’’ she said.
Gardening was a new experience for many of the participants, she said. But once they tried the fresh vegetables, they became converts, she said. “They come out of the garden with a red pepper in their hand and they eat it like an apple,’’ she said.
Counselor Jake Berman, who was a camper when he was younger, enjoyed watching the youngsters transform in some cases from shy to eager in a matter of a few days.
“By Friday, none of them want to leave,’’ said counselor Jackson White. Some come from challenging backgrounds, White said, which makes the lessons absorbed through the program all the more crucial, he said. “They can bring (what they learned) back to their communities and teach other kids,’’ he said.