Everyone, even children, wants to feel connected to something. Especially if they struggle with fitting in.

Enter the Jr. El Tour Youth Cycling Program, which strives to help at-risk kids learn about health and fitness by developing a connection to cycling.

“Most of the kids have never been on a bike before,” said Tiffany Bialis, program coordinator. “They learn how to ride a bike, how to run a mile, learn exercises that strengthen them, and bike safety. It’s a pretty cohesive program and it’s all funded by private sponsors, so it’s completely free for the kids.”

The program caters to children struggling with issues such as obesity, inactivity, low self-esteem, financial hardship and learning differences. Spots are available for this year’s training group, which starts in August.

Once they’re signed up, kids will receive nutrition classes, fitness classes, gear and a bicycle, at no cost. The season culminates in the team riding together in the 40-mile portion of the El Tour de Tucson race.

As an extension of the program, children who did well the year before are invited to come back as mentors. And, after riding in El Tour and completing some follow-up programs, participants get to keep their bikes.

“A lot of our kids develop a love of bicycling,” Bialis said. “We focus on the fundamentals — getting kids to a healthy lifestyle and healthy body and make them feel like there’s a place for them ... and how to change their mindset if they’re bullied. We put them on a team where they make great friendships and they get to earn their bikes.”

Fill out an application online at jreltour.org