Every year, 400,000 children under 15 in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries, and an additional 300 children are killed. However, wearing a helmet while riding a bike, scooter, roller blades or a skateboard can reduce the risk of severe brain injury by 88%.

That’s the reason behind a program to hand out free helmets to every third grader in Central Oregon who needs one.

The Center Foundation, a nonprofit Bend-based youth sports medicine organization, will visit every elementary school in Central Oregon this spring to explain the importance of helmets. And the group has 1,500 helmets in stock to give away at these assemblies.

Sonja Donohue, executive director of The Center Foundation, said her group has done outreach on helmet safety for over two decades but started traveling to elementary schools in Bend-La Pine in 2015 to specifically hold assemblies for the schools’ third grade students.

The program, called “Train Your Brain,” has a focus on keeping lessons fun and exciting for kids. Donohue said the highlight of the assemblies comes at the end — volunteers drop two melons on the ground. One has a helmet and stays intact. The other melon explodes in spectacular fashion.

“Honestly, that’s what drives kids to remember,” Donohue said.

Donohue and Stuart Schmidt, the foundation’s athletic training supervisor, said their 30-minute assemblies demonstrate how to properly wear a helmet, the importance of wearing a helmet while doing wheeled action sports, and how to take care of a helmet.

The Center Foundation, which was founded in 2001 by Bend physicians at the The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research, mostly focuses on injury prevention, concussion treatment and athletic training for high-school athletes. Schmidt said reaching out to younger students will increase the kids’ awareness of their group once they grow up.

“This is a great opportunity to reach these kids at a young age and they know what we do, so when they get to high school, they’ll know who we are,” he said.

The foundation’s 1,500 helmets were paid for by three corporate sponsors — First Interstate Bank, Summit Medical Group Oregon and BendBroadband. Each group donated $10,000 to cover the cost of the assemblies and helmets, Donohue said.

The first assembly was Wednesday at Tumalo Community School, and the first stop in Bend will be at Buckingham Elementary on Monday.

Donohue and Schmidt said the foundation has received positive feedback from schools for their demonstrations.

“It seems to be a big hit, and it’s fun for our staff to go out and interact and try to educate the kids,” Schmidt said.

Grace Deboodt, the music teacher at Crooked River Elementary in Prineville who accompanied the school’s third graders to the helmet assembly Friday, called the presentation “fantastic” and had lots of praise for the speaker, Michael Estes.

“He was so at their level,” she said. “The kids were just so involved — he really did a great job.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

image_printPrint