Surprise was the order of the day Wednesday, December 18, 2019, for almost 200 Caddo Parish youngsters.

They went on what they thought was a school outing, and instead they were treated to an early Christmas, courtesy of the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office and the Volunteers for Youth Justice.

“Look at their faces — that’s the best part of it,” said Kelli Todd, VYJ’s executive director. “They didn’t know they were getting these today. When we were out at their schools measuring them, they thought it was for uniforms, but we were measuring them for bikes. So they came out today and just now realized they were getting bikes. It feels wonderful to see their faces when they find their names.”

Wednesday’s bike give-away was the fourth, with bicycles purchased through a generous donation from El Dorado Casino. Academy Sports on Bert Kouns Industrial Loop provided the site for the event and staff there helped order and assemble the bikes.

“We want to give back to the community,” said Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr., who was decked out in a Santa hat and led the students from six Caddo Parish elementary schools — Forest Hills, Keithville, Midway, North Highlands, Sunset Acres, Westwood — in singing “Jingle Bells.” “We want to deal with a little joy and invest in our future, invest in our children.”

Also present at the event were state Sen. Greg Tarver, a major supporter of VYJ, and Robert Urland, vice president and general manager of El Dorado Casino.

“We’re giving back to the community,” Tarver said, echoing DA Stewart.

“We want to thank the educators,” Urland said. “Without our educators, we don’t have a future. You give our children and our community a future.”

It was a hit with students and parents.

“I’m gonna ride it,” was what 4-year-old Kyran Anderson said would be the first order of his business with his new bike. The pre-K student at Westwood Elementary was part of the throng with his mother, Kayla Anderson.

Also getting new bikes were Midway Elementary students and brothers Derius Jackson, 7, and J’Vontay Durham, 10.

“I only found out about this yesterday,” said their mother, Lakeshia Durham. “Thank God — I was really stressed about Christmas.”

The annual give-away is part of an initiative by the Volunteers for Youth Justice TASC Truancy Prevention Program, working in collaboration with Caddo Parish Schools, aimed to address improving attendance in all 41 Caddo elementary schools.

“Our focus is to keep the kids in school at an early age,” Kelli Todd said. “They get used to being in school and it doesn’t become an issue down the road.”

For more information, call John Andrew Prime at (318) 617-5958, or call the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office at (318) 226-6955. For more information about Volunteers for Youth Justice and its programs, call its offices at (318) 425-4413.