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Gearing Up! donates bikes, skateboards to local at-risk youth
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Luke and Natalie Bartell prepare bike and skateboard donations for Aspiranets Excell Center through their Gearing Up! organization. - photo by NATALIE WINTERS/The Journal

Their mission is simple and their actions are huge.

Lucas and Natalie Bartell were inspired by the joy of a small act that led the siblings to continue to make a difference in their community.

In February, the two siblings heard about a student who had his bike stolen at a school in Modesto where their mother is a principal and they took it upon themselves to donate a bike to him.

“We grew up fortunate to have everything we needed, and this bike might have been his only possession,” said Luke Bartell. “The joy it gave him when we donated the bike made me realize that I want to keep doing it.”

The siblings then began a charity, Gearing Up: Bring Bikes to Children, with the goal of providing bikes, skateboards and scooters to children in foster care, group homes and areas of low socio-economic growth.

On Wednesday, Gearing Up! donated eight bikes, five skateboards, four scooters, eight helmets and eight bike locks for at-risk youth at the Excell Center in Turlock just in time for the holiday season.

"The generosity that Luke and Natalie have shown is a wonderful example for our boys,” said Chris Essary, residential division director for the Excell Center. “The kindness of strangers is not lost on them and this gesture of love will impact them in ways not now fully appreciated."

The Excell Center is a residential treatment program that serves at-risk youth ages 10-18 throughout California. It provides educational and residential services that help build self-esteem, develop positive relationships and work through the issues that necessitated the youths' placement at the center.

“I saw Gearing Up! online with a different group that they had donated to and when I reached out to Luke he responded right away,” said Ellyn Brannon, community engagement specialist for Aspiranet, which operates the Excell Center. “When the email came through that they were ready to go we were just thrilled and so thankful.”

The Excell Center plans to turn the acre of property in the back part of the Youngstown Road campus into a BMX course because they know it’s something the boys would be interested in and now they have the bikes to do so.

Mike Barerra, Excell administrator, has managed the day-to-day operations since 1998 and said that this donation will mean so much to the boys.

“They don’t know [the bikes] are coming, they’ll be so excited at Christmas,” he said. “A lot of the families can’t provide gifts like that so it will mean so much to them and they’ll be very appreciative.”

“Anytime you see youth helping other youth, it’s just so special,” said Brannon. “They’re able to learn from their example and it’s so wonderful that kids today are involved and productive in giving back to the community.”

Visit to donate to the charity, or visit and like their Facebook page, “Gearing Up: Bring Bikes to Children” for more information.