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Volunteers and teachers cover the bikes before the surprise unveiling at Pepperhill Elementary school on Thursday, March 30, 2017. More than $80,000 was raised in a GoFundMe campaign started by first-grade teacher Katie Bloomquist to buy a new bike for every student at Pepperhill Elementary. Michael Pronzato/Staff

The moment Katie Blomquist had been tirelessly preparing for all school year finally arrived at 8:53 a.m., Thursday morning in Pepperhill Elementary's visitor parking lot. 


Hundreds of students screamed with joy as Pepperhill staff and volunteers unveiled a gleaming display of custom-designed bicycles and classic red Radio Flyer tricycles beneath a billowing set of parachutes. Blomquist jogged around the loop in her dress and heels to give every roaring student a smile and high five. 

For first-grade teacher Blomquist, this was the culmination of a seven-month journey unlike anything she had ever embarked on before. She can hardly talk about her experience without breaking into tears. 

"This isn't a gift from me. This is a gift not only from your local community, but our whole country," Blomquist told the students seconds before the big reveal. "One day when you're a grown-up and you're looking back on this day, I want you to really think about that and think about the joy and happiness that these strangers gave to you, and I hope that you in turn one day find a way to give back some sort of happiness and joy to other people because of this day."

In September, Blomquist, 34, launched a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $65,000 — enough money to buy a bicycle for all 650 students at Pepperhill, a high-poverty school in North Charleston where many families can't afford bikes for their children.

Some of Blomquist's favorite childhood memories involved riding her bike around her neighborhood. She wanted her students to enjoy the same freedom she relished growing up. Her dream was ambitious, and perhaps, a little impossible, but still she prayed her local community would come together for a good cause.

Instead, her campaign spread like wildfire, catching the attention of hundreds people nationwide, including TV host Steve Harvey, who invited Blomquist to his talk show in Chicago where he surprised her with two donations totaling $20,000. In six months' time, she raised more than $80,000.

"I’ve learned that people really do want to be a part of good things," she said. "In my mind, I envisioned it being this community thing and locals-supporting-local thing. But I didn’t really understand just how much the community would want to be involved."

All of this money allowed Blomquist to buy roughly 550 custom bicycles, built by Charleston-based Affordabike, along with helmets and locks for every student. Radio Flyer donated 100 tricycles for Pepperhill's younger students.

The bicycles, which Blomquist helped design, are mostly white with a neon-green trimming. The chain stay, near the pedals, says "Let's Go Places!" The down tube reads "The Future."

A handful of students had a chance to try out their new bikes, including seven-year-old Jawan Dent, one of Blomquist's former first-graders. Jawan inspired Blomquist's campaign when he begged her to buy him a bike for his birthday last year. 

"I wanted a bike for Christmas," Jawan said. "But it didn't happen." 

Jawan said he was "so excited" for his new bike. He took it for a spin Thursday morning in Pepperhill's parking lot, expertly maneuvering between orange traffic cones and popping wheelies.

Meanwhile, Blomquist said her work isn't done. She's founded her own nascent nonprofit, "Going Places," with a mission of "spread(ing) this joy as much as possible" to as many students as she can. 

"I never ever in a million years thought I would be someone — I get so emotional talking about this all the time — I never thought I would be someone who could actually make a difference or make a change," she said. "I just thought this would be a nice thing to do. I had no idea that this is what it was gonna turn into."

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Reach Deanna Pan at 843-937-5764 and follower her on Twitter @DDpan. 

Deanna Pan is an enterprise reporter for The Post and Courier, where she writes about education and other issues. She grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati and graduated with a degree in English from Ohio State University in 2012.