Yesterday, 300 local fifth- and sixth-graders showed up at the Manual High School gym, nominated by their teachers to be part of an event dubbed "Arches of Hope." After listening to a lineup of speakers, the kids rode home on brand-new Huffy bicycles. In addition, ten high school seniors left with $1,200 in college scholarship money apiece.
All of it was made possible by Geta Asfaw, an Ethiopian immigrant who owns eight McDonald's restaurants -- and believes in giving back.
"When you have a strong community, you have a strong business," Asfaw says.
"It's a win-win situation."
Asfaw came to the United States in 1972. His goal was to go to college and return to his home country. But a government coup in 1974 made that impossible, and Asfaw ended up applying for U.S. citizenship. He earned several college degrees and bought several businesses. In 1991, he bought a McDonald's, and his chain of restaurants grew from there.
Five years ago, he and his wife, Janice, held their first bicycle giveaway. They got the idea from a businessman in Indianapolis who did the same thing. The Asfaws started out small; that year, they gave away fifty bikes at an event held at a church on Colorado Boulevard.
Over time, the event grew. This year, the Asfaw Family Foundation bought 300 bikes at a discount from Wal-Mart with help from donors who pitched in to buy a bike or two each. Fifth- and sixth-grade teachers from the Denver area selected students to receive them based on five criteria: good grades, good behavior, financial need, whether they have a parent serving in the military and whether they suffer from a chronic illness.
"A bike represents freedom for some of these kids," says Debbie Fitzgerald, who coordinated press coverage of the event. "They get a bike and they can cruise around."
Last year, the Asfaws added another aspect to Arches of Hope: college scholarships for young black males -- a demographic the Asfaws felt needed a boost. The Aim High Scholarship program provides money for students that Asfaw describes as "kind of in the middle" -- good students who might not qualify for other scholarships because they don't have 4.0 GPAs but who are passionate about going to college.
The Asfaws hope to grow both the scholarship program and the bike giveaway in the years to come. "Our goal will be to continue more and more every year," Asfaw says.
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