On Thursday, September 17, the Bicycle Coalition teamed up with Powel Elementary School in West Philadelphia for an event called Ride for Reading. Part of our Safe Routes Philly program, the event found Bicycle Coalition staff and volunteers bringing children’s books to a school to encourage physical and mental activity.

Participants met up at Rittenhouse Square at 7:45am, exchanged books, then set off to Powel, meeting with students and presenting them with a short presentation as to why the physical and mental exercise of riding bicycles and reading books is important.

Volunteers gathered for 'Ride for Reading' at Rittenhouse Square.

Volunteers gathered for ‘Ride for Reading’ at Rittenhouse Square.

The event was put together after a sort-of chance meet-up between Safe Routes Philly Coordinator Waffiyyah Murray and Sarah Joseph of West Philadelphia Alliance for Children.

“I was looking for a school to host this years Ride for Reading event when I met Sarah Joseph at a Women Bike PHL coffee club and learned that she worked with WEPAC at Powel Elementary,” says Murray. “WEPAC is an organization that promotes literacy in Philadelphia public schools by engaging volunteers for school libraries. Powel Elementary is very involved in Safe Routes Philly programs thanks to their PE teacher Becky Brayen. It was perfect timing and a perfect match for this event.”



“When I told her a about my work at WePAC, a nonprofit dedicated to reopening and operating public elementary school libraries, and she mentioned that she was looking for a school in need of books,” says Joseph. “We saw an opportunity for collaboration. WePAC works with a number of schools that are also Safe Routes Philly schools, and I recommended Powel due to its proximity to Center City as well as its need for a library collection update.”

Volunteers came from all over the Philadelphia area, including Tom K., who had just heard about the national Ride for Reading event a month earlier.

“I read about Ride for Reading in the August issue of Bicycling Magazine,” says volunteer Tom K., “and I thought it sounded like an awesome idea.  I was very happy to see the listing for today’s ride from Rittenhouse Square in a BCP e-mail newsletter. I had never ridden this ride before, and was not sure how it worked.  I bought a few books from a used book store, borrowed a trailer, and headed to the city.  We met at Rittenhouse square, loaded up the books, and headed through the city towards Powel Elementary.  A quick photo stop on the bridge over the Schuylkill River, past Franklin Field, U. Penn Hospital, up 38th Street, through a few lovely and quite streets, and we arrived at Powel Elementary.”

After arriving at the school, volunteers settled in the gymnasium and unloaded the books from their bikes. They were greeted by posters and student-made art projects thanking them for the books.

Students greeted the volunteers and BCGP staff with signs of support.

Students greeted the volunteers and BCGP staff with signs of support.


A group of students came in for a short lesson from Murray.


Safe Routes Philly Coordinator teaches students about the benefits of bikes and books.

Then, another group of students met the volunteers in the school’s library, where Murray stressed the importance of reading and staying active–both of which are tenets of the Safe Routes to Schools Program.


Murray speaks to students in the school library.

A whole-lotta-books

A whole-lotta-books

“WePAC is always looking for opportunities to collaborate and share resources with other community organizations doing great work in Philadelphia schools, and we are so grateful to the volunteers and organizers who helped to coordinate this event,” continues Joseph. “The Powel library, which is entirely staffed by eight dedicated volunteers, will officially open on October 6th, and we all so happy that the students will be able to check out some new books this year!”

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