Bikes for the World

Friday, June 2, 2017

Art Matters

For any young person today, simple every day life in school can be emotionally draining. There are pressures from family to do well in school and get good grades. There are pressures from peers to fit in. There are pressures from strangers who may bully or demean students in a trend that seems to be growing daily. Finding the space to focus on learning can feel like an unattainable chore.

Rodney Grant helped establish PCW
For young residents in the community known locally in Barbados as 'The Pines', life, itself, can be a challenge.  Add to the above, living in poverty, not getting enough to eat, watching mom and dad struggle to find good jobs and you might find a student who has given up before they've even tried.

Pinelands Creative Workshop (PCW) is a community organization working to overcome these challenges and improve the lives of students in their neighborhood.  PCW was created to ease that burden decades ago and continues to thrive today after constantly growing and reinventing themselves to keep up with the changing stresses and challenges on the students within their community.

The overall goal of PCW is to provide compensatory education to vulnerable persons in communities across Barbados as a viable pathway out of poverty. Only a community organization can use an initiative like BfW to do so much with so little.

Through the sales of our donated bikes, PCW is able to run a full service bike shop, employ mechanics, and raise funds to help support projects within their program which focus on using art education to improve lives. While Pinelands Creative Workshop may seem like nothing more than a cool place to hang out with friends after school, what this organization provides to its young participants goes much deeper than that. And goes far beyond a bike simply providing transportation.

On the surface, PCW seems to be offering dance classes, music lessons, and theatre opportunities in addition to their academic mentoring and supplemental education. And that's exactly it.

To 8 year old Danisha, all she knows is she likes dancing at PCW after school and hanging out with her friends. But deep down even she knows it's more than that. Through dance, she told Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess, "I learned how to be myself." At eight.

What we see PCW providing is a working classroom: Expression. Collaboration. Focus. Confidence. Accountability. Responsibility. Those same art based after school extra curricular activities that Danisha loves so much are critical to childhood development and will continue to serve her, and her community, well throughout life.

PCW has reshaped elements our our mission at Bikes for the World, to enhance lives through better transport, and expanded it to better fit the needs of their community by offering a less tangible but equally important development platform for youth. And we are thrilled to see them adapt our program to serve their community...that's really what we are about, improving lives. 

Doing that through the arts is genius, especially in a tourist-centric nation that relies on the performing arts as a way of life. The arts also strengthen problem solving and critical thinking. Students learn to make choices and understand the value of their participation in the overall productions. They learn about sharing responsibility and how perseverance can pay off. They take pride in the end result after putting in the hard work it took to get there. They are developing a routine for success.

Art encourages young people to express their thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways. It opens lines of communications and brings topics that are relevant to them to the forefront. It encourages strangers to open up and learn from someone who is exactly like them or a polar opposite.

Art introduces the idea of peaceful resolution to the classroom, dance hall, stage, or recital room. Most of all art brings inclusion into a closed circle. It opens, embraces, and beats like a drum or a heart. Art lays the foundation for understanding, acceptance, and compassion. Just like the bike, art brings people together and transports them to a better place. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Larry Orwig

Larry Orwig is a Glenwood Lions member and extremely active in international service projects, including the BfW annual bike drive in Glenwood Maryland.

Larry is a huge cog in this finely tuned machine. And he's a key reason the Club celebrated reaching the 1,000 bikes collected mark this past spring.

"How many bikes  can one community give year-after-year. I keep thinking there must be a point when there are no more not-used bikes," ponders Mary Powers. Mary is the Glenwood Lions/Leos advisor that works closely with the Lions men and the students at Glenwood Middle School on this bike annual bike project.

Mary took over the role as advisor on this project a few years ago and both Larry and Harrison Morson (also from the Glenwood Lions Club) helped make that transition seamless.

While collecting bikes for reuse overseas is an important part of our program we cannot overlook the impact this project has on our environment and of course the students who participate year after year. Larry knows first hand how life changing a bike can be to a family in a poor, rural African community. And he also knows students here benefit greatly by being involved in the project.

Two years ago Jeff Dannis, Operations Division Chief, Bureau of Environmental Services, Department of Public Works, approached Bikes for the World about partnering up with the Alpha Ridge Waste Transfer Station in Howard County. This is an effort Director Keith Oberg really wanted to make work, but the distance from our warehouse in Arlington VA and the demands of the schedule were too much for the tiny staff at BfW to handle.

But the Glenwood Lions Club had eager volunteers, trucks, and even secured storage at the school for bikes...making this idea of collecting bikes at Alpha Ridge a real possibility. Without any introductions or support, the Glenwood Lions Club and the staff at Alpha Ridge entered into a pilot program to collect bikes at the transfer station on behalf of Bikes for the World.

Let's not underestimate the Leos either.  If you can't find Larry buried in a trailer full of bikes (see above), you'll likely find him smack dab in the middle of a group of budding bike mechanics at the school (see right).

And in 2015, the Glenwood bike collection netted 180 bikes, quite an impressive turn out. But after joining forces with Alpha Ridge, the 2016 collection topped 245 bikes.

This became an issue when the school's storage area overflowed. BfW had to make a special trip up last fall to help alleviate space, but Larry wanted to make sure the kids were still involved in the program. So we set up a special bike prepping session in the fall with the Leos club.

Representatives from BfW, Yvette Hess and Jim Mitchell met at the school to mentor the kids and load up bikes to take back to our warehouse in Virginia. Larry was a key force during that session helping to mentor the kids and teach them a little about bike mechanics and tool leverage, just as he does during the annual collection in May.

This year, 2017, the Glenwood collection surpassed our 1k bike marker with flying colors. Thanks to partnership with Alpha Ridge, this year's collection brought in 319 bikes, a school record.

Many Lion members participate in this event in May working side by side with the kids. But their commitment doesn't start and end there. They also supply a crew to work the waste transfer station several times a month. They accept bikes, monitor the quality, and transport them to the storage area at the school.

Without Larry's help at Alpha Ridge none of this would be possible.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Lion's Pride

Welcome to the 1k Club. This year Bikes for the World welcomes a new thousand bike partner... Glenwood Lions Club.

BfW now has 10 community partners whose collections have added more than 1,000 bikes to our program over the last 13 years. In fact between them, they have collected and donated over 18,000 bikes around the world. That's a lot of bikes and even more lives improved.

While our official partner is the Glenwood Lions Club, this project is quite popular among the Leos at Glenwood Middle School. What's a Leo? Lions Clubs sponsor their younger counterparts in an effort to instill great qualities in the youth of their community. Leadership, Experience, Opportunity defines what being a LEO is all about.

Throughout the year the Leos take part in several Lions led projects. Donating books is big. Glenwood Leos participated in bringing books to schools, seniors, and the community. But the bike collection is one of the most popular. Getting to use the tools and a little elbow grease (or getting grease on their elbows, as the case may be) is fun for kids of every age.

This is a project that really helps pair up the Lions and Leos and gets them working together toward a common goal. Lions Larry Orwig and Harrison Morson have been fixtures at this event held every May.

Larry works throughout the year collecting bikes in his truck and ferrying them over to the school for the kids to use their new mechanic skills. Both Harrison and Larry work with the kids mentoring them and showing them all the tricks to break a rusty bolt free.

Bikes for the World even made a special trip up there in the fall of 2015 to work with the Leos outside their spring event. They had collected so many bikes we had to make an early pick up. And we wanted to give the students a chance to work on the bikes.

"I think this is a great partnership between us, the Lions and the Leos. I really saw the girls in particular empowered when we handed them a pedal wrench and showed them how to use it. Getting all young people familiar with tools and using them is one of the aspects of my job I enjoy the most. If this work encourages them to learn more about bikes and makes them confident enough to tackle a flat tire on the road that's super!" says Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess who has worked directly with Glenwood since 2012.

And at Glenwood, they just keep upping their effort.
Way back in 2012 the crew donated about 50 bikes.
The following year they doubled that number. In 2015 they almost doubled it again, turning in 180 bikes. From then on they have been on a roll. In 2016 the Lions Club joined up with Alpha Ridge waste transfer station and that spring hit an all time high contributing 245 bikes. Many of those bikes last year were donated to our partner in Barbados Pinelands Creative Workshop.

This year their bikes will be split between Kenya and Barbados and were loaded the following week after their May 6th collection. During that collecting the bikes kept rolling in. Through the recycling effort, random pick ups, and drop offs at the school, Glenwood filled our truck with 319 bikes (in fact we made two pick ups there throughout the year!).

So yeah, we honored their cruise into our 1k realm. They actually crushed it. They are now moving on trying to catch our 3k leaders.

While their numbers continue to be impressive, it's really the impact they are having on our partners around the world, on the earth through recycling efforts, and in their communities and even families that really stand out.

A story that came out of the 2012 collection at Glenwood stays with us even today. Here Megan and Brandon Witt donated a brand new bicycle they bought with money they saved themselves. It was a lesson mom Robin, wanted to teach her kids about the importance of giving back. It's a lesson we continue to share today.

That blue BMX bike was loaded the same day and traveled all the way to Africa to a put a smile on a little boy's face in Ghana.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

6,000 Bikes. And Counting...

Paul Crawford
It seems like every year we are comparing someone with Otterbein United Methodist Church and this year is no different. It's because after a dozen bike collections with Bikes for the World,  this crew is a well oiled machine worthy of mention and comparison.

So last week we noted the amazing efforts of the Frederick based Rotary Club of Carroll Creek. After a year of collecting bikes for their 2017 annual bike drive, the Frederick County Rotarians turned in an impressive 902 bikes! This ramped up their overall collection total to 3,127 bikes, making them the BfW record holder since 2005.

Mike Johnston accepting the 1k Award
They knocked off Washington County's Otterbein United Methodist Church who held that title since....FOREVER. In fact, back in 2009 Otterbein UM broke records (which still hold today) by collecting 400 bikes in one day. This is the BfW record for a one day, one location bike donation drop off point by any of our partners.

It was that '09 effort that put Otterbein UM into a club they essentially created, our 1k Club. This distinction is for any BfW partner who has collected over 1,000 bikes donated on our behalf.  Today, there are 10 members. Two well on their way to earning a place in our 5k Club...Otterbein United Methodist Church and the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.

Otterbein 2017 Crew
On April 29th, Otterbein UM reclaimed their title by collecting 268 bikes during their 2017 bike drive, taking their overall total to 3,136 bikes. Nine more than the neighboring Rotarians. Every year we hear the same thing from donors, volunteers, and even the organizers of this collection...there can't be that many bikes every year, but then there are. We joked about getting them wet like Gremlins, they just keep multiplying. (and yes the kids of today got that joke)

In fact, this year's total was only two bikes less than last year's total. In the thirteen years that Otterbein UM has been collecting bikes the last weekend of April, only three years fell below 200 bikes. And barely: 187, 188, and 189.

Otterbein UM is also the single biggest source of our donated sewing machines, many of which end up in Costa Rica to help tailors start sewing businesses that support their families. 

Ryliah Hill learns how to take off pedals for the first time
But it's not just about bike totals. Overseas, each bike on average affects four lives and at over 3,000 bikes donated, that's a lot of positive change. But the work Otterbein UM does just in their own community is worth so much more right here at home. Otterbein UM is known for their 'parking lot ministry'. What is that saying? Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. Yeah, that.

Otterbein UM works in the community, for the community. While the bikes they collect for BfW do not stay within the Hagerstown community, the commitment to service and outreach does. Over the years, we see many familiar faces wielding a wrench and slinging off pedals. But every year we also see new faces being mentored and trained by those dedicated volunteers who helped collect the very first bikes. This is important to us and our effort, but we also know that volunteering is a 'bug' that stays with you throughout your life.

According to Cindy Brown, one of the main collection managers of this successful effort, they had four generations out there working side by side. Every year she is impressed with the turn out both from donors and volunteers. Neighborhood kids even came over to lend a hand this year.

"When you first begin a partnership with Bikes for the World, it is rewarding to consider the local and global benefits. By now - after 13 collections - it is astounding to realize over 3,000 bikes have been pulled out of storage, kept out of the landfill, and put to good use," Cindy Brown.

And because this is just a friendly competition where everyone benefits, we'll go ahead and point out by Monday April 25th the Rotarians already had another dozen bikes toward their 2018 technically they are still leading the pack :)

Congratulations to both groups, and thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Sam Clingman and Dad

Sam's the man! Meet Sam Clingman of Frederick Maryland, our featured volunteer this month. Sam is the guy who kept all the volunteers in line this past month up at that monumental collection with the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.

And when we say monumental, we mean it! This Rotarian effort brought over 900 bikes into our warehouse over the past year. Actually, that's not even true. Led by Rotarians Norm Birzer and Richard Foot, this bike collection took place over the past year and bikes were stored in an Adamstown barn as they were collected. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.

And when we realized how many bikes they had on hand we had a genius idea. We decided to bring our container directly into their collection site at Triangle Motors in Frederick. And from there we would simply roll the bikes in from the collection to our shipment, eliminating the need to transport them to our warehouse in Rockville.

And Sam's the guy who kept us all on track. Seriously, while many volunteers were occupied loading the container in the rain, Sam managed the group of volunteers prepping bikes on the side and getting them to the loading crew in time for the next row of bikes. No short task; the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek ALSO collected over 100 bikes just that ONE day.

And Sam is no rookie when it comes to loading either. This is actually his second container loading with us in less than a month.

We only just met Sam personally back on April 8th during our warehouse warming party. Sam came down with his dad, Tom, to accept our 1k Club award on behalf of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek. In case anyone is counting (and we know they are) they are now over 3,000 bikes! Stay tuned, we expect to be creating a 5k Club any day now.

Tom Clingman is a recent member of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek after moving here from North Carolina. Getting involved with the Rotarians here really helped them settle into the community quickly and to feel welcomed.

"Working with Bikes for the World has been the best thing that has happened for Sam since we moved to Maryland in 2015. Norm did a great job teaching Sam to work on bikes and making him feel valued for his efforts. The recent volunteer opportunities and the connections he has made with other people has been so positive for him!" reports Dad.

It goes without saying this father-son team has been great for us too! Tom is the Chief Development Officer at the YMCA of Frederick County and he was quick to get the Y involved in the effort. In addition to helping collect and pick up bikes throughout the year, Tom recruited members of the Y Leaders Club to help before and during the collection. Some of them worked side by side with Sam to keep that bike processing line moving during a busy Saturday!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Now That's How You Do Earth Day

April 22nd Bikes for the World shifted our operations north (and we aren't talking North Bethesda). We took a drive up the Pike to support the 12th annual Rotary Club of Carroll Creek bike collection. We had it on good authority it was going to be a good year.

This year was indeed special. Last year the Rotarians set a goal of one bike a day for a year. Last time we checked that is 365 days, typically- so 365 bikes right? Well the Rotarians must be dyslexic (and that's quite okay) because they actually turned over 539 bikes to us in 2016.

That effort was led by Richard Foot who turned over the reins to Norm Birzer this year who headed the bicycle committee for the Rotary club. And not to be outdone by his predecessor, Norm upped the ante. They continued to store bikes in an old dairy barn and increased their daily bike pick ups at bike shops, recycling centers, police departments, individual homes, etc.

By the first of the year, BfW was hearing rumors of well over 500 bikes already in storage...the same number of bikes we typically pack in a shipping container. So at a staff meeting Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess asks Director Keith Oberg, "What is the feasibility of bringing a container directly into the barn where the Rotary club is storing bikes?" It was a long shot, but it beat moving all those bikes down to our warehouse...and at the time, we still didn't have our new warehouse figured out. That, and Keith LOVES this kind of challenge.

Shane Sellers of Frederick Community College
Well, it didn't take long to convince the Rotarians...a loading is fun and generates a lot of excitement for the program. And it's quite rewarding to collect the bikes for a single container and know exactly where it is heading.

This time, that program was CESTA in El Salvador. And the loading was scheduled for Earth Day, the day of their annual collection, at Triangle Motors in Frederick.

CESTA led bike ride in El Salvador
And what a perfect pairing.CESTA is very focused on Earth/climate issues. Just last month CESTA hosted the second ride for the environment in the town of San Pedro Masahuat, La Paz. The message being, ride your bike, save the earth! More than a hundred riders from surrounding schools along with community members who care about the environment participated in this pedaling 'protest'.

CESTA director Richard Navarro had this to say about riding a bike, "the bicycle is a mechanism that does not consume oil, does not contaminate the environment, does not generate noxious gases that impact the ecosystem."

Mackenzie Clark, Amber Meyers, and Dylan Wood
We were now still moving bikes from the barn to the loading, just not as far, being uber conscious of our carbon footprint during Earth Month. We pulled together an amazing team of Rotarians to help get this greasy wheel turning on Friday, and finished up with a collection of Rotarians and a great team from the Hood Rotaract Club.

But there was still a very active bike collection happening simultaneously. Thanks to May's BfW Featured Volunteer Sam Clingman, everything was moving along like a fine tuned drive train. Sam kept the volunteers in line prepping bikes and moving them to the container to be shipped to El Salvador. Donors got to see their bikes going directly into the shipment and the volunteers really got to see how and why the bike prepping is so important.

Richard Foot
It was chilly. It was rainy. We had a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time. No better team than the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek to get 'er done. The final count on that annual collection? 902 bikes (they were still coming in even after we closed the container, took down the tent and packed the wrenches away in the car). Um, yeah, we could have used TWO containers!

For the last four years, this collection has been stationed at Triangle Motors in Frederick. In the last four years the collection has yielded nearly 2,000 of the 3,000 total bikes collected over the last 12 years. It was the perfect place to celebrate their accomplishments with a container loading, despite the weather.

"You need to plan better and get better weather for this," joked Tom Meacham of Triangle Motor and also a member of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.

"It's Earth Day!" quipped back Richard Foot, the Rotarian who led the charge to take this collection to another level over two years ago.

"Well, this is pretty Earthy!" observed Tom.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Shipping Bikes and Building Islands

When Bikes for the World partners up with a school or organization we do more than collect bikes together. Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess will routinely come into a classroom or club meeting to introduce some of our overseas partners and beneficiaries to help put a face to our mission.

One question the kids always ask is how do the bikes get from point A to point B. When they find out they go by ship, they want to know how they get there from their school and we love to tell them.

Earth Day 2017 loading in Frederick MD for CESTA El Salvador
Almost all of our bikes are loaded in our local warehouse now located in Rockville Maryland. There are a few cases when we will assist or advise on other loadings like the one we worked on today in Frederick Maryland.

We typically load forty foot shipping containers that arrive to our warehouse pulled by a tractor trailer. Most often our loadings are done over two days to allow time to sort bikes properly and include other items such as spare parts and tubes and tires that are invaluable to the mechanics rebuilding our donated bikes overseas.

Actual bike container in port in Ghana, Africa
After they leave our warehouse, the trucks deliver the containers to the port of Baltimore where they wait until a ship is leaving for the destined country. This could be two days or two weeks.

Then, they float across the ocean to their new homes in Central America or Africa or even the Philippines. This could take two weeks or as long as two months!

When the bikes arrive overseas our partners have to meet the containers at port to have them cleared and transported back to their warehouses and/or final destinations. This can also be a quick trip, like in Barbados which is a smaller island. Or it can take months, like in the Philippines where bikes are distributed among many, many islands and need to be transported several times.

Since today is Earth Day, we decided to give you an even different view our bikes' journey, the impact it has on our environment, and how Maryland is taking an obstacle and creating something amazing right here in the Chesapeake Bay.

Has anyone ever heard of Poplar Island?  This small island is located in Talbot County within the Chesapeake Bay and was on the edge of 'extinction' in the 90s. In fact, this once Presidential retreat island, was about 1100 acres and in less than 200 years it was reduced in size to 5 acres.

What does that have to do with shipping bikes around the world? Dredging. Dredging makes navigating cargo ships through these channels possible. Excavating sediment from those vital waterways keeps those channels open to ships needing a deep channel to pass.

But what do they do with the dredged material once it's removed from the bay floor? Good question, and here's the awesome answer...Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now 'rebuilding' the lost footprint of Poplar Island with dredged material from the shipping channel. When the project is completed in 2029 Poplar Island will be even bigger than it was when it was discovered in 1573.

Restoring these islands is important for several reasons. The small islands dotted along the edge of Maryland are important in protecting our coasts from erosion and storm surge. Islands such as Poplar have also been critical in protecting wildlife habitat such as our bird species, fish and shellfish.

The Maryland Environmental Service also works with local schools to raise and place vulnerable terrapin populations on the island.

From the Maryland Environmental Service website:

"The restoration of Poplar Island includes the creation of uplands and intertidal wetlands offering a diversity of habitats for a variety of Chesapeake Bay wildlife. With less than 20% of the habitat creation completed, Poplar Island wildlife goals are already being realized.

A number of the region’s most sensitive bird species including common and least terns, cattle and snowy egrets, osprey, and the American black duck, are found nesting onsite annually and diamondback terrapins continue to return to the site to nest as well."

Don't take our word for it, you can schedule your own tour of Poplar Island. And this is an island you'll want to go back to year after year to see how much it changes over time.