Double bike surprise for Yale C&T team-builders, New Haven first graders

A bicycle-building exercise and a chance to meet Handsome Dan turned into an uplifting surprise for a group of Yale employees and New Haven first-graders.

Yale Clerical and Technical (C&T) workers arrived at the Kenney Center at the Yale Bowl on April 27, for a morning of team building facilitated by L.E.A.D. USA Consultants and jointly sponsored by Local 34 and Yale University. After several rousing warmup exercises, Rich Kuepper of L.E.A.D. introduced the main event: The C&T teams would be building bicycles.

All the participants came here not knowing what they were going to be tasked with,” explained Daria Biancardi, Yale Human Relations generalist and one of the team building event coordinators. “They just knew that it was a team building event and that it was going to be fun, but now that the cat’s out of the bag, the room has exploded with excitement.”

With 40 minutes on the clock, the C&T teams got to work, tearing open the cardboard boxes and toolkits in front of them. No instructions were provided, and it was soon clear that the toolkits given to them were incomplete: The bike builders would have to communicate well within and between their teams in order to get the bikes assembled properly and on time. During a final inspection by two New Haven bike experts, Kuepper explained, the teams would be docked points for every flaw in their final product, which needed to be safe and ready to ride. Whichever team had the highest point total after the inspection would be the “winner.”

We’re hoping people work together,” said Marcy Kaufman, graduate registrar for history and another of the event’s coordinators, “and are able to take the skills that they used here today back to the workplace to make them more effective teams and to have better results at work.”

However, Kaufman explained that there would also be a more immediate reward for the C&T bike building teams, for just as the bike building activity was getting into gear, some surprise guests were arriving downstairs.

Thirteen first-graders from Quinnipiac STEM school in Fairhaven had come to the Yale Bowl under the pretense of meeting Handsome Dan as a reward for winning a “random acts of kindness” journaling competition. Beth Pellegrino, the community impact director of the United Way of Greater New Haven, helped Local 34 and Yale identify Quinnipiac STEM school as a community partner for this double bicycle surprise. Neither the winning first-graders nor the C&T team-builders had any idea what was about to happen. 

Tools down,” Kuepper instructed when the 40 minutes ran out. After a lunch break and thorough expert inspection, Kuepper pronounced the winning C&T team — touting that team’s use of great communication for the win. However, at that same moment, the youngsters were walking up the stairs. When the door to the Champions Room opened to reveal the soon-to-be recipients of the newly built bikes, the adults gave a collective squeal of delight and surprise.

Grace Nathman, principal of the Quinnipiac STEM school, then introduced the first-graders to the team-builders, saying, “These 13 children won for their random act of kindness writing journals. They wrote the most heartwarming entries.” Nathman asked the children if they had any advice about kindness to share with the adults.

Be kind when no one is looking,” said Mohammed, one of the first-graders. The adults cheered.

I’m a little overwhelmed,” said Nathman. “We didn’t know what to expect but this is amazing to see these beautiful faces and that you volunteered hours of time for our children. And that’s what it’s all about — us working as a community, as one, to make this country a better place.”

Each of the C&T teams was paired with a first-grader, and the adults were soon helping their youngest teammates don their new helmets and mount their new bikes — and most importantly, take them for a first ride.

 “Sometimes we forget what we know as kids, and we get into a bigger sandbox and forget how to play nice with each other,” said Kuepper, to nods and murmurs of assent. Turning then to the children, he added, “Thanks for being here and reminding us what it means to be a good team player.”

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