Southwestern Illinois Kids Get Custom-fitted Helmets

May 10, 2011

It was free, custom-fitted bike helmets for all Gilson Brown Elementary School students in the house Wednesday, compliments of a pediatrician’s organization and a local hospital.

“I love them; they are comfortable. It was wonderful they brought them to the school,” said fifth-grader Alli Kodros, 11. “It was very generous.”

Kodros’ classmates, Jayda Armstead and Addy Fleming, both 11, agreed. All of them were wearing their new, shiny blue helmets.

“They fit and don’t fall off,” Jayda said. “(The program) was fun.”

“It was very nice and kind for them to provide helmets for our school,” Addy said.

The girls said they did not have helmets at home; neither did classmate Will Hurst, 11, who was patiently sitting during his helmet fitting by volunteer Kevin Lenglet, a member of Alton Volunteer Emergency Corps.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said.

“Helmet Doctor” Joseph Cangas, M.D., of Columbia, Ill., is founder of, and brought more than 300 helmets in four sizes for the kindergartners through fifth-graders. Alton Memorial Hospital donated $1,200 toward the cost of the helmets; Cangas’ organization provided additional funds.

Prior to distributing the helmets, Cangas showed slides of how a brain easily can be damaged without protection, but kept from harm with a helmet, using photos of watermelon and gelatin. He also showed the children photos of adults who wear helmets at their jobs.

“One of the big things is awareness of having them fit correctly,” Cangas said.

He said he saw bicyclists’ head injuries during his medical residency.

“An everyday question for kids is, `Do you wear a helmet when you ride?”‘ he said. “The kids all seemed excited about the helmets.”

Principal Mary Pat Venardos said she would emphasize the importance of wearing the helmets the rest of the month at her morning meetings with students.

“I will reinforce using helmets when they are biking, skateboarding or riding on scooters,” she said.

Venardos said she is grateful Cangas and the hospital sponsored the give-away.

“When he did the program, he asked students to raise their hands if they had helmets,” she said. “Very few raised their hands. He did a wonderful job presenting to them why they need to wear helmets.”

Lenglet, along with Alton Memorial Hospital paramedic students and Emergency Services Director Debbie Woelfel, made sure each child who wanted a helmet got one, and that each helmet fit properly.

“I just like interacting with children,” Lenglet said.

A few children brought their own helmets to school to have the fitters ensure they fit and whether they needed resizing.

The event was part of Summer Safety Week at the school, 1613 W. Delmar Ave., which included a rollover car and seat belt safety presentation by Illinois State Police Trooper Mike Link; and Chief John Sowders of the Godfrey Fire Protection District bringing its smokehouse. Sowders discussed what to do in case of a house fire.

On Thursday, a representative from Hayner Public Library will read stories to students about summer safety, and Friday will be a healthy, “power breakfast” and safety fair, with parents invited.

Children from Gilson Brown or other area schools still can obtain free helmets at Alton Memorial’s Family Safety Fest from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 21. Parents should call (800) 392-0936 to set up a fitting appointment.

Rusty Ingram, spokesman for Alton Memorial, said some Gilson Brown teachers came to a previous health fair, saw only a few students from the school, and said they would like to do a helmet safety program. The school staff’s Academic Development Institute committee then began planning, said Elaine Kane, a Title 1 teacher.

“It’s very exciting; the kids are so excited,” Kane said. “A lot of these kids live by each other and, hopefully, they will encourage one another to wear the helmets. We are grateful to Alton Memorial Hospital and Dr. Cangas.”

Cangas advises parents to check that any helmet they buy is Consumer Product Safety Commission-certified, as denoted by a sticker.

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