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The First Annual Bright Lights for Kids Ride

- A Cycling Event to Honor Charlie Criniere and to "Break the Cycle" of Child Abuse.

1,900 kids are abused every day | 13,000 kids are in Missouri Foster Care Let's break this cycle!

 

A little over a year ago, Charles Criniere was hit by a car and killed while cycling around the Longview Lake Loop, one of the most popular cycling routes in Kansas City. JC Van Deventer, an avid cyclist and school teacher, was deeply impacted by Charlie's devotion as a man of faith, family, and public school teacher. And though JC never met Charlie, he decided to use his influence in the cycling world to put on a massive memorial cycling event to honor Charlie and advocate for safe cycling.


Van Deventer rallied the community in just a matter of weeks to put on The Bright Lights for Charlie Memorial ride, and around 1,000 cyclists participated! This massive turnout shocked the community and sparked many conversations about Charlie's life and cycling safety. All of last year's proceeds went to the Criniere family.


Last year, Megan Criniere came to the event with all 9 of the kiddos and spent all day talking with the cyclists. It was shocking to see all the cyclists who never met Charlie come out for the event. Megan and JC Van Deventer talked about Charlie and began to dream of an annual event to honor Charlie's legacy. Together, they decided that an annual event that would care for kids in the foster care system would be something that Charlie would have loved.



 

Charlie grew up in a gang-infested Albany Park Chicago neighborhood in the 1990's. Charlie ended up in and out of jail for petty offenses, fighting, and graffiti. However, Charlie was chosen for a unique Juvenile scholarship program. This Chicago scholarship program helped Charlie with college tuition so he could step into a career path and turn his life around.

Long story short, Charlie became the poster child of the success of this program - and to this day, 25 years later, his picture is still on the website. Around the same time that Charlie qualified for this program, a friend shared Jesus with Charlie, which led him to become a wholehearted follower of Christ. Charlie said his turnaround was due 100% to God's transforming power found in Christ, but Charlie also knew that God used the practical support that he was given through the scholarship program. Charlie worked extremely hard from that day forth and went on to live a selfless life, pouring his heart and soul into the next generation, working as a public school teacher and in Christian ministry.


When Charlie was young, he took the graffiti tag name "Orphan" because, in some ways, he felt like an orphan. However, once God changed his life and he learned that God was the ultimate father looking to bring lost humanity back into his eternal family, Charlie's life emanated the spirit of a father to his own ten children as well as to hundreds of students he impacted over the years.


 

JC Van Deventer also carries a deep conviction that it is his responsibility to give back. He fostered more than 120 kids over ten years, most of the time having close to a dozen kids in the house. The Jackson County Commissioners, the Social Worker Supervisor, and many others who worked with kids in the system loved it when they had kids placed in JC's home because of how fantastic the kids did with him. His career as a public school teacher also stems from that same belief.

JC told me that getting into cycling changed his path. He said, "My closest friends from the year before I started riding have spent more time in prison as adults than not. I was no different, I just got lucky that my brother had two paper routes and bought a really nice bike that he 'would not' let me ride."



 

Bright Lights for Kids


JC decided to re-create the memorial cycling event into "Bright Lights for Kids" and partner with the Jackson County CASA Association to help "break the cycle" of child abuse. The CASA program or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national program that trains and supports community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children in foster care.


After a year of planning and logistics, the first annual Bright Lights for Kids ride was a huge success!!! The event took place this past Saturday (Sept. 16th) with the help of twenty local businesses. Hundreds of cyclists participated, helping to raise money for CASA.



The ride offered five different distances to suit riders of all levels: 10 miles, 31 miles (50k), 62 miles (100k), 100 miles (160k), and 125 miles (200k). Each distance had its own challenges and rewards, such as scenic views, rolling hills, and official finishers jerseys. The 200k ride also featured a $1,000 KOM/QOM competition for the fastest climbers.

The riders were greeted with cheers and applause at the finish line, where they enjoyed food, drinks, and raffle prizes.


This year, around 20 cyclists finished the 200k ultra distance (125 miles), and another dozen finished the 160k (100 miles). The 200k cyclists and a handful of the 160k riders did a mind-melding 10-mile lap route around Longview Lake. Last year, Van Deventer promoted the event by doing 10 laps around the lake - 1 lap for each of Charlie's Children, and these cyclists chose to do this original route thinking about the Criniere kids as well as those 13,000 kids in Missouri foster care.



On a personal note, I was able to do the 100-mile-10-lap route for the second year in a row, but this year was extra special because my 15-year-old son (John), and 13-year-old son (James) also did the 100-mile ride with me! This was their very first century ride! My 11-year-old son (Joshua) joined us for 40 miles, and my wife (Sally) and my 9-year-old son (Judah) did 11 miles each. So, as a family, we rode over 360 miles!


Seeing dozens of riders wearing the official Charles Criniere Memorial Jersey was terrific!


“I think cycling is a great metaphor for life,” One participant said, “You have to keep moving forward, even when it gets hard, even when you face obstacles. You have to trust that God will give you strength, and you have to rely on your comrades for support. And when you reach your destination, you feel a sense of accomplishment and joy that is hard to describe.”


Van Deventer and Megan Criniere were both overwhelmed by the response and support from the cycling community and the public. They both hope to make this ride an annual tradition and to grow it into the largest cycling event in the Midwest. Van Deventer has already shown that he is ready to do some pretty crazy things to promote the event. Earlier this year, he did 2,328 laps around a parking lot to get word out about the Bright Lights event. That number represents every child in the Kansas City area who received support last year from CASA volunteers.


We want to thank everyone who participated in this year’s ride, whether as a rider, a volunteer, and especially all the Partners. Bike Stop Lee's Summit

Hanover Bikes You are all bright lights for kids, and you are helping to brake the cycle of child abuse in our society. Together, we can make a difference. Charlie was a bright light in this world, and we want to keep his light shining through this event.

 


Every year, thousands of children in Missouri enter the foster care system due to abuse or neglect. These children face an uncertain future, often moving from one placement to another, without a stable and consistent adult presence in their lives. They may also struggle with emotional, behavioral, and educational challenges as a result of their traumatic experiences. That’s where CASA volunteers come in. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to serve as the voice of the child in court and in the community. They work closely with the child, the child’s family, the child’s caseworker, and other professionals involved in the child’s case. They gather information, make recommendations, and monitor the progress of the child until a safe and permanent home is found. CASA volunteers are not lawyers or social workers. They are ordinary people who care about children and want to make a difference. They come from all walks of life, backgrounds, and professions. They undergo rigorous screening and training before being assigned to a child. They commit to spending at least 10 hours per month on their case, which typically lasts for one to two years. The impact of CASA volunteers on children’s lives is significant and lasting. Research shows that children with CASA volunteers are more likely to find a permanent home, less likely to re-enter foster care, more likely to succeed in school, and less likely to experience further abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers also help save taxpayer money by reducing the length of time children spend in foster care and preventing future involvement with the juvenile justice system. In Missouri, there are 22 local CASA programs that serve 45 counties across the state. In 2022, these programs provided more than 1,400 CASA volunteers who advocated for over 4,000 children in foster care. However, this is only a fraction of the more than 13,000 children who were in foster care in Missouri last year. Many more children need and deserve a CASA volunteer to stand by their side and speak up for their rights. You can help change a child’s story by becoming a CASA volunteer or supporting your local CASA program.

- Ryan Corrigan

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