Little Bellas

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Little Bellas creates opportunities for girls to experience success using mountain biking as the platform and pathway to personal growth, building community, and competency.

Timeline

  • 2007 - Little Bellas is officially launched. The first program takes place in Williston, Vt. with 12 girls participating
  • 2010- Little Bellas expands to launch day camps in Williston, Vt.  for 8 to 10-year-olds.
  • 2011 – Sea Otter Classic hosts the first Little Bellas camp outside of Vermont and adds more day camps for 10 to 14-year-olds back home in Vermont.
  • 2012 – Sabra Davison hired as Little Bellas’ first employee (part-time) and is immediately tasked with running programs nationwide. Camps are added to nationally recognized Beti Bike Bash.
  • 2013 – Junior Mentoring program for 14 to 18-year-olds is added to the program.
  • 2014 – Little Bellas organizes as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Chapters begin in Boulder, Colorado. and Salinas, California..
  • 2015 – Program continues to grow nationwide with more chapters being added across the country
  • 2019 – Little Bellas declares its intention to have 60 programs nationwide by 2022

What’s in the Name?

The name’s origins come from a women’s riding club called the “Bellaship of the Wheel” that was native to Little Bellas’ home turf in Vermont (USA). There was an informal discussion about creating a Little Bellas club but that formality never really crystalized. Instead the young girls associated with the Bellaship of the Wheel voluntarily called themselves “Little Bellas,” which unintentionally radiated a great sense of belonging and connection for them.

 

A Brief History

The first Little Bellas program took place in Williston, Vermont during the summer of 2007 and counted 12 girls. Back then Lea and Sabra were racing full time on the international mountain bike circuit and doing what they could for Little Bellas in between race weekends. Angela maintained her fulltime job as Development Director for Saint Michael’s College, and would mentor and run programs outside of working hours. Angela also became an invaluable source for many “out-of-the-box” ideas and for overall program direction.

“We still have eight of the original 12 Little Bellas involved in the program, now they are junior mentors or mentors – one of them ran our camps this summer.”
– Sabra Davison, Executive Director

Unlike current Little Bellas programs, those early programs didn’t have much of a curriculum. Program leaders basically asked themselves what would be fun and then did whatever came to mind.  Leaders pieced together a plan day-by-day and learned along the way; this process was underscored by embracing continuous improvement.  Metaphorically speaking, they stayed one bike length out in front of the girls in order to keep them engaged each day.  Since then Little Bellas has rolled this experiential learning into a curriculum and evolved the method but it is still anchored by Little Bellas’ founding tenets to teach the importance of teamwork, goal-setting, and of fostering a healthy lifestyle.

The big break for Little Bellas came when the first camp was held at the 2011 Sea Otter Classic, which put Little Bellas on the map and showed the cycling world what Little Bellas was doing.

To learn about what kind of impact Little Bellas has, visit our Impact page.

As Little Bellas started to accelerate, Richard Keonitzer joined the team in 2012. We were able to dedicate more time to growing the organization. So it was determined that Little Bellas would hire Sabra part time as the executive director. We worked hard to create the infrastructure to support employees, which was no small feat for an organization with modest resources.

 

Once Little Bellas started to gain national recognition, the program attracted leaders who wanted to bring Little Bellas to their communities. Soon Little Bellas camps were happening all across the US. This led to another turning point in the growth of the organization, when Little Bellas hired additional employees. During those founding years, Little Bellas operated first under the Vermont Mountain Bike Association, and then later under the Catamount Outdoor Family Center. Little Bellas was able to take advantage of each organization’s non-profit status until becoming its own 501c3 non-profit organization in 2014. Richard Koenitzer assumed the role of board chair board and it is through his leadership and strategic thought Little Bellas been able to grow in a sustainable and meaningful way.

 

To date, Little Bellas has served nearly 4,000 girls in 16 states; the concept seems to have struck a chord with both the girls and leaders alike. Probably more striking than the high numbers of participants though is the huge quantity of selfless mentors, who volunteer their skills, experience, and compassion in service to a future rife with strong, self-confident young women. The goal and mission of Little Bellas has also captured the attention of a number of high profile partners and sponsors with whom Little Bellas collaborates to achieve mutually beneficial goals tailored to the objectives of each party. Funding for Little Bellas comes from a variety of sources and gets distributed across each participant’s entry fee to keep costs as reasonable as possible for all.

Little Bellas will continue to expand its program offerings across North America by adding chapters in a sustained way year after year.

 

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