Nothing is too big for New Jersey native, Gabrielle Rossi. Gabrielle is a doctoral student at Rutgers University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration studying the impacts of service-learning programs geared towards college students. She is also the founder and executive director of The Dream Project, a cross-country cycling and service organization for college students. Through Bike & Walk Montclair, Gabrielle runs Girls in Gear, a confidence-building program for riders 6-12 years old. In her spare time, Gabrielle also serves on the board of Girls on the Run New Jersey East where she was recognized nationally for her fifteen seasons of volunteering as a coach and has served as a crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line since 2014. Keep reading to learn more about one of Gabrielle’s projects, Girls in Gear.
Montclair Girl: How long have you lived in Montclair?
Gabrielle Rossi: I’ve lived in Montclair for four years but have lived in New Jersey all my life.
MG: Tell us about Girls in Gear.
GR: Girls in Gear™ is a seven-week program for riders ages 7-12 who want to build confidence on and off their bikes. Weekly meetings focus on a mix of emotional development, conversations, bike maintenance, and riding skills.
At Girls in Gear, we teach life skills through bike skills. We find bikes to be an extraordinary tool for change in ourselves and our communities as a conduit for lessons on kindness, compassion, and inner strength. The goal of the program is to introduce the joy of safe cycling to young riders while creating a supportive environment fostering personal growth. Our programs are designed for riders of all ability levels with a focus on having fun and trying their best.
MG: What inspired you to start the program?
GR: I ostensibly started Girls in Gear to share my joy of biking with the next generation of riders but I not-so-secretly just wanted a new group of friends to bike through puddles with while listening to Taylor Swift and discussing our favorite ice cream flavors. In all seriousness, I wanted to build an inclusive, mentorship-based bike program that empowers participants by teaching life skills through bike skills. Bikes are an extraordinary tool for change in ourselves and our communities as a conduit for lessons on strength, resilience, kindness, and empathy. The program has grown exponentially since last spring and I am so excited to welcome even more riders this fall.
MG: When does the season start + what should people know about joining?
GR: The season runs for six weeks. Meet-ups are on Sundays, October 10 – November 21. Riders 10-12 years old will meet from 9-10:15AM and riders 6-9 years old will meet from 10:30-11:45AM at Rand Park. It is recommended that all participants register for and participate in at least one Bike & Walk Montclair Skill Building Class before beginning this program. The registration link can be found here.
MG: Why is it important to you to help build the confidence of young girls?
GR: There are so many reasons! We live in a world where from a very early age women are continuously questioned for who they are, why they are, and what they stand for. Girls often experience deeper self-doubts than do boys and those can stay with them through adulthood. That self-doubt affects how they show up for themselves in school, at home, and with friends. From a sports perspective, the facts back up the need for more girls’ programming like Girls in Gear. Only 20 percent of National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) members and 15 percent of USA Cycling members identify as female. Further, studies have also found that physical activity levels for girls decline at age 10 and continue to decrease throughout adolescence. Hence, Girls in Gear is designed for riders of all ability levels with a focus on having fun and trying their best.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
GR: Every time I have my own moment of doubt, I look at the piles of homemade thank you cards I’ve received from girls whom I’ve worked with over the years.
MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?
GR: How cliche is it to say that no two days look the same? Any given day is a mix of class, research, coaching Girls in Gear, running The Dream Project, attending board meetings, and eating Montclair Bread Company Boston cream doughnuts.
MG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
GR: Every chance I’ve had to build a program that connects people through biking has been a career highlight for me and that takes all different forms. Through The Dream Project, I facilitate cross-country fundraising and volunteering bike rides for college students. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of meeting those riders on the other side of the country after a summer of watching them get there by bike. But on a much more local level, I love helping young riders feel more connected to themselves, each other, and their community through biking which is why I started Girls in Gear and volunteer my time running bike clinics for the Girls Scouts.
MG: Anything else you want to share about Montclair, Girls in Gear, or yourself.
GR: It speaks to our community that I was able to start this program in the middle of a global pandemic and received nothing but enthusiastic support from the participants and families. I’m so grateful that this program has continuously received such a welcome response from the community.
To learn more about Girls in Gear, email Gabrielle here.