Mich. youth cycling nonprofit receives foundation grant

Erin Sloan
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — Big dreams are becoming a reality for the Norte Youth Cycling group’s Executive Director Ty Schmidt.

“We have all these dreams of dreaming big; we’re such a small, scrappy nonprofit — there’s always been one-and-a-half people working and now we’ll have two full time,” he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

A three-year, $50,000-per-year grant from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation allows Schmidt to quit his part-time physical therapy position at Munson Medical Center to help fulfill Norte’s future plans.

The Community Foundation is working on health and wellness initiatives aimed at a healthier region, an idea shared by Norte and Schmidt, said Phil Ellis, executive director of the foundation.

“Ty brings not only the bike and walkability elements, but he has the grass-roots connections in the neighborhoods and communities — the work is very connected,” he said.

The grant, funded by a small group of donors through the foundation, will allow Norte and Schmidt the chance to make the nonprofit sustainable.

“It’s crazy to think this small nonprofit that started in my garage has grown this much,” he said. “I’ve been a physical therapist for 18 years, and I really love it, but I’m also really excited about Norte and this grant really allows us to continue to grow.”

Norte started three years ago as a way to get kids to bike to Eastern Elementary School but has since grown to other elementary and middle schools throughout Traverse City. Schmidt saw long drop-off car lines at schools and not many kids walking or biking and opting for screen or couch time — including his own kids — and wanted to make a change.

The organization currently reaches about 1,000 children, but Schmidt has hopes to reach more than 10,000.

“This project centers around active transportation — the idea of walking and biking to regular things like school, the park or your buddies’ house,” he said. “Obesity is through the roof; there’s all sorts of studies that show kids are moving less and screening more. Increasing our resources (through the grant) will allow us to reach more kids and more schools.”

Schmidt has a five-year goal of possibly bringing Norte, or a replication of the group, to communities in the five-county region.

“We’ve become more broadly neighborhood based by empowering people to get involved,” he said. “This grant is huge for us; it’s been amazing — people are getting bikes out of the corner of the garage.”