Bikes for the World

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Featured Volunteer: Keith Whitaker

Collecting bikes in South Carolina
Summer 2012. "I live in Charleston, SC and am interested in helping out." It was a simply stated, common email that came into Bikes for the World about two years ago. We had no idea then, how serious Keith Whitaker was.

Keith is the marketing director at Gildan's Branded Apparel Division headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina. He heard about Bikes for the World and he wanted to get involved. But he also had a vision: he wanted to take advantage of the containers his company was sending back to their operation in Honduras. Let's fill them with bikes!

This was no ordinary volunteer fulfilling community service hours. Keith was in a position to expand our vision to create Bikes for the World 'chapters' outside the DC area. Bikes for the World was about to pop up in South Carolina. We were stoked!

Fast forward a year. Summer 2013. Coordinating an effort at a distance between a corporation and a new non-profit partner overseas doesn't happen overnight. While BfW Director Keith Oberg was working out the details with the potential partner, Fundacion Adelante, Gildan's Director of Marketing Keith Whitaker was speaking with the company's CEO.

Finally, everyone came to an agreement. Keith Whitaker would host several bike collections in the community, collect bikes and store them at Gildan. Adelante agreed to take an initial shipment of 100 bikes to get a feel for how the program would work.

First BfW container loading in SC
So Whitaker recruited the help from fellow co-workers Sarah Stafford and Chuck Jones to help advertise the collections, prep the bikes, and ultimately load the container themselves, right there in South Carolina. To supplement the shipment Keith Oberg arranged to have bikes collected earlier in 2013 at Reagan High School in NC transported to Gildan in SC. In fact, Whitaker also coordinated the effort to pick up and deliver these bikes to Gildan's warehouse in SC.

Fast forward one more year. Summer 2014. Adelante recently reported back to Bikes for the World on the how the program was going. Our donated bikes were received in February 2014. They were then refurbished so that they could be sold at a low cost to rural Hondurans in need of affordable transportation to get to work and school.

Jose Matute, bike mechanic and shop owner
Jose Matute, a local bicycle shop owner, was responsible for getting the donated bikes back in working order. His bike business is booming by supplying parts to the new bike owners as well as continuing further maintenance on the bikes.

Profits from the bike program are helping to fund a new initiative Adelante is currently establishing, the Secondary Education Loan. This loan will help clients with the high cost of sending a child to school, to help pay for things such as textbooks and school uniforms.

Interested in helping out. A powerful and understated phrase that led to one man flanked by two dedicated friends joining forces with the nation's leading bicycle re-use program to deliver hope to rural Honduras. Featured Volunteer? Yeah, that's an understatement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Getting Back To School

The desire to stay in school is often challenged by the need to drop out for many poorer children in remote areas of the world. In villages around the globe, where students often live several miles from school without affordable transportation, drop-out rates in high schools and even middle schools are soaring.

Yellow Boat of HOPE provides boats for Filipino students
Many rural communities often have rocky, narrow paths leading from students' homes to their far off schools. In the Philippines, which is a country of small islands, some students even have to cross water in order to attend school.

Adding to the challenge of simply getting to school, many families cannot afford to have their children away from home for long periods of time. Many are responsible for household chores, caring for siblings, and even working in the community to help their families.

As students become older and enter high school, their commutes often become longer, sometimes 2-3 hours of their days. They have less time for homework and find themselves tired in the classroom. For a family that may earn only $25 US a week, having that child drop out to help around the house is often better for the family.

But ultimately not better for the child. Or the community. Education is the key to making their communities better and their governments stronger. Shortening commutes and giving back the to the families the precious resource of time is a good place to start. And a bicycle is a great way to accomplish that.

In Honduras, one family is struggling with more than just how to get to school; Norma, the mother of three sons, cannot afford to send her oldest son back to school. When Ronaldo entered seventh grade, he was walking two hours every day in extreme heat, just to get to and from school. He ended up dropping out.

Now Ronaldo is 15 and wants to go back to school. He is the oldest of three boys and wants to set a good example for his brothers. He also realized he couldn't reach his potential without a degree. Unfortunately, his family did not have the economic resources to help him re-enroll.

But just this month, thanks to the partnership with Bikes for the World, Adelante, a micro-finance program in Honduras, is addressing this problem. They are not only assisting by getting bikes to rural areas to help kids with transportation to school, but they are also helping provide loans for school associated costs.

Profits from the bike project will help fund a Secondary Education Loan initiative created to support family's like Ronaldo's. This will help with the high cost of uniforms, textbooks, and administration fees required at the beginning of a school year allowing Ronaldo to fulfill his dream of continuing his education.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Students in NC to Students in Honduras

In 2013 Bikes for the World teamed up with Gildan Activewear to deliver a trial shipment of about 100 bikes to a potential new partner in Honduras. Bikes for the World already works with Art for Humanity, a local non-profit, to occasionally donate a few bikes in containers they pack full of a variety of donated items.

This pilot effort by Bikes for the World and Gildan Activewear delivered a container of bikes to a micro-finance group called  Fundacion Adelante. Adelante was founded in 1999 in response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch, which left $3.8 billion in damages and over three million citizens homeless.

Adelante provides short-term small business loans to the poorest of the poor rural Honduran women, so they can invest in small businesses to earn income to support themselves and their families. Over time, the women use their business profits to buy better food for their families, improve their homes, buy medicine when necessary, send their children to school, and save for the future.

Reagan High School students
Bikes collected at Gildan's Branded Apparel division headquarters in South Carolina were loaded into an empty container heading back to Honduras where Gildan also operates.

In addition to the bikes collected at Gildan, Bikes for the World arranged to have bikes collected on our behalf at Reagan High School in North Carolina transported to Gildan. The bikes collected by these students were also loaded onto this container donated to Adelante in Honduras.

Reagan High's Key Club has partnered with Bikes for the World the last three years. We can't always track where an individual bike may end up, but in this case, bikes collected at Reagan High during the 2013 collection were all shipped to Honduras. Knowing how those bikes are helping a community reinforces the impact those students are making not only in their home town of Pfafftown, NC, but also in five separate regions in Honduras.

Adelante received this donation of bicycles, delivered by Gildan, at the beginning of 2014. The profits from bike sales are funding a new Educational Loan project established just this month that will begin in 2015.

Adelante is distributing our donated bicycles at a low cost in rural areas that have little access to resources and reliable transportation. Bikes will help keep students enrolled in school and also help Adelante clients transport goods with greater ease.

Clients are eligible for an Educational Loan to help finance sending their kids to school. Adelante learned that 35% of their clients have children between the ages of 12-20 that have dropped out of school. Another 37% of clients have children at risk of dropping out before graduation.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Local Bike Donations

Courtesy St. Louis Bicycle Works
Yesterday we told you about how bikes donated by Bikes for the World are helping youth programs across the United States. We also explained why it's challenging to find new partners, something we are committed to working on continually.

Because BfW is the nation's largest bicycle reuse organization and we are handling over 15,000 bikes annually, we typically donate bikes in full containers (500 at a time). Locally, we sometimes donate as little as 30-100, but only when we know the bikes can be repaired with the recipient. This is why many of our domestic projects are earn-a-bike programs.

Family, originally from Ghana, earns bikes through Rockville
Five weeks ago Bikes for the World had shipped around 5,000 bikes for the year. That number is now close to 10,000. In the past two months, we have seen around 6,000 bikes come into our Arlington warehouse and we loaded containers every week. Needless to say, we don't have time to repair bikes coming through our warehouse; most of that is done through the partners we hand select.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, in exchange for our use of the King Farm barn in Rockville we partner with the Parks and Rec department to pair Rockville youth with refurbished bikes through their TERRIFIC bike program. Our Operations Manager repairs about 50 bikes a year from our donated bikes to supply this program.

Takoma Park Middle School student
Right around the time we were working on the TERRIFIC bikes, we got word that a homeless student from Hyattsville needed a bike. We were able to find one in our Rockville supply that would work and delivered it to him last month.

The student was introduced to us through a teacher at Takoma Park Middle School and the Safe Routes to School program. His family is originally from The Gambia and relocated here from New York in hopes of better working prospects.

The family is currently homeless and staying in Hyattsville Maryland. During the school year, MCPS provides bus service to get kids to and from school, but the arrangement is difficult and makes his commute time consuming. The bike donated by Bikes for the World helped him finish out his school year and saved a ton of time.

St Augustine's Episcopal Church DC
 A few other donations materialized this spring through the hard work of some long time BfW collection partners. Finding a mechanic to get our donations in good working order is often the hardest part.

The West Springfield Rotary worked with The Bike Lane in Springfield to ready bikes for Kristi's Christmas, which donates bikes in June to Fairfax students in need.

The Waldorf Kiwanis has been doing an annual collection with Bikes for the World at Calvary Gospel in Waldorf for years. They approached us this spring and brought to our attention another church in Pikesville Kentucky who had a large number of poorer families who wanted bikes for their children.

During a recent loading in Arlington, the Kiwanis Club sent a truck and trailer to pick up 100 18 inch bikes that were donated by Bikes for the World. These kids bikes were taken to Kentucky where they will be refurbished and donated to the kids in the community.

St Augustine's Episcopal Church in DC (photo above), received a donation of seven bikes through our first Board Chairman Nick Griffin.

Every fall we also donate bikes to the Baltimore Christmas Bike Project.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Youth Programs, Learning and Earning

Courtesy Phoenix Bikes
So far this year Bikes for the World has donated over 9,500 bikes to other organizations worldwide.  While a majority of our bikes are donated overseas, many also stay right here in America. In 2014, BfW has donated bikes to eight organizations overseas. We have also donated just under 1,000 bikes to eight domestic projects
as well.

It is often more difficult to find local groups who support our mission, can accept bike donations in the larger quantities that we typically donate, AND have the workforce to fix up the bikes that are often in need of major repairs.  Nearly 100% of our donations locally are working to benefit young people, either by getting them a bike or teaching them a valuable skill.

Bikes donated to BfW FROM Phoenix Bikes
One of our favorite groups we work with is right here in Arlington, Phoenix Bikes. Phoenix Bikes is a youth program that teaches kids how to fix up bikes, but it doesn't stop there. Check out this recent article from the Washington Post to see how great this program is for yourself.

What you may not know about Phoenix Bikes, and many other groups like them, is that they also turn around and donate right back to groups like Bikes for the World. Just last month Phoenix delivered a couple truckloads of bikes to BfW that have already been shipped overseas. In turn, we donated some road bikes back to them to help support the youth program.

Courtesy BWorks: More DICK'S bikes
Back in May, BfW partnered for a third year with DICK'S Sporting Goods to offer a trade-in trade-up promotion to their customers. During this one week event, customers brought in an old bike to receive money off a new bike. DICK'S then donated all of those bikes, over 5,500!, to BfW.

Two trailers of bikes coming from DICK'S warehouses were diverted to another non-profit in St. Louis, St. Louis Bicycle Works (BWorks). This is another local youth program which can benefit from some of our donated bikes that are less suitable for use on rural village roads overseas.

Courtesy St. Louis Bicycle Works
St. Louis works with Bikes for the World to help ship bikes overseas to our same partners. Many of these youth programs, like BWorks, are based in the city and make use of more road bikes than mountain frames for their programs. They either donate the unwanted bikes to us, or ship them directly from their warehouses.

This shipment (seen left) was loaded in June and is on its way to BfW partner CESTA in El Salvador. Back in Arlington, we just finished loading a container this past weekend, that will also soon be on its way to CESTA, to support their youth program in El Salvador.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Featured Volunteer: Karen Hendrixson

It was just last year when Karen sent an email offering to help unload bikes from DICK'S Sporting Goods in our old Arlington warehouse. Karen was no stranger to BfW, she is a very active member of our board so of course we wanted her help in the warehouse.Now we can't keep her away.

Bikes for the World is always proud to boast about our active board members. They are all very passionate about the work we do and are always looking for ways to improve on that.

In addition to the behind the scenes strategic planning, almost every single member has an article of clothing, or two or three, stained with the unmistakable BfW trademark....GREASE. Dr. Karen Hendrixson is no exception, in fact she likely has some on her knee brace.

This year, Karen is a go-to pro. Last year she would offer to come out to collections, loadings...whatever we needed, but she always cautioned, I'm not sure how much help I will be...

Karen could often be found riding her bike, perhaps on the canal, or with one of her kids, but she didn't usually take it apart. It wasn't long before she knew the ropes at BfW and was spinning pedals off with the rest of us. Now she has her own trademark maneuvers. If you have a saddle that won't go down...take it to Karen, she will show you an unorthodox trick!

Karen joined our board in 2012, but she's been involved a lot longer than that. Her son did a collection with us quite a while ago. But it's her extensive knowledge of Africa that is a valuable asset to our team. She has lived in Ghana and Liberia and is currently helping to explore options of expanding BfW to Liberia. She currently serves as the board secretary.

The bonus to having Karen around the warehouse isn't just the fact that she brings us cookies and brownies...she truly understands how Bikes for the World works. She isn't just wrestling rusty bike parts, she is mentoring volunteers and checking in with staff. With Karen working side by side with staff and volunteers, she sees where we excel and where we could use improvement. This is something you can't fully appreciate sitting in a board meeting.

In fact, all of our board members have either done their own collections, mentored others at collections, picked up bikes, or even packed bikes at a loading. They have all processed a bike and had grease under their fingernails on one or more occasion.

Keeping our board members active in our program is keeping Bikes for the World strong. They understand our limitations and see our potential first hand. They are interacting with our donors, our volunteers, and even our beneficiaries.

The next time you are out at a loading make sure you say hi to Karen...and thank her for the baked treats!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Honoring Craig Annear and Nick Griffin

Jerry Rogers, Keith Oberg, Craig Annear, Nick Griffin
The long awaited tale of "How it Began"...

When Executive Director Keith Oberg (kneeling with bike in the photo to the right) made the decision to establish Bikes for the World, identifying storage and enlisting community groups to collect bikes, he did not do it alone. Craig Annear and Nick Griffin, pictured to the right of the bike at this Bikes for the World collection at Herndon High School in 2005, have been with Bikes for the World since the beginning of time, or at least since Bikes for the World formed.

Craig, who had recently retired from a career as a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency and who had a life-long interest in Africa (and whose son had recently served in the Peace Corps in Zambia), came to an event featuring a speaker from Ghana, discussing bikes in Ghana.

Nick had recently relocated from his home town of New York City to work in international assistance with a Northern VA-based agency, and knew about Keith's efforts through his brother, who had done a field survey and report on bicycles in Nicaragua.

Both saw the potential for Bikes for the World to grow, and quickly became active, spending countless hours driving trucks, mentoring new bike processors, and loading shipments. It helped that both enjoyed physical exercise and wanted to stay in shape. Both took the lead in loading 40' shipping containers, frequently tackling the infamous 'third level.' As Keith often joked to first-timers, "now you know why [we] quit our membership at Sport & Health".

This past year, Bikes for the World recognized both men with the Starley Award for leadership in our ascent. Both Craig and Nick served as Chairpersons throughout Bikes for the World's climb. Tom Tepper is the current Bikes for the World Chair.

Bikes for the World began as a "sponsored project" of a supportive Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). In essence, Keith was given free rein to manage Bikes for the World's finances and operations. Craig contributed his legal knowledge, helping to prepare a standard "memorandum of understanding" which BfW used in establishing relationships with overseas receiving partners. Nick contributed his contacts and expertise in identifying several early partners.

Over its first three years, the program grew rapidly, from 5,000 bikes handled to over 10,000 in 2008. But it was taking its toll on Keith, and on volunteers. Nick was particularly assertive in urging Keith to hire help and broaden the base of support.

Bike use in Africa
In 2008, Nick traveled to Senegal on Bikes for the World's behalf, along with the Village Bicycle Project's David Peckham, to prepare an innovative complementary effort to a USAID secondary school construction project. Nick's international development expertise and contacts, and strong French skills, paired with Peckham's West African field and bicycle technology knowledge, enabled the duo to prepare a proposal to bring in a container of 500 bicycles to enable students walking long miles to school, to get there more quickly via bicycle. The project quickly won USAID and Ministry of Education approval, only to flounder on irrational Ministry of Finance import restrictions.

Finally, in the fall of 2009, Craig and Nick, along with Jerry Rogers (all pictured at top with Keith), convened a meeting in a Rosslyn sports bar--convenient to Nick's office and Jerry's bike commuter route. There, the three prevailed upon Keith to hire office help and begin considering other ways to build Bikes for the World into a permanent organization. It would be the first step toward moving out from under WABA's sponsorship and becoming an independent non-profit agency.

Bikes for the World hopes to ship its 100,000th bike this fall. With over a dozen global partners and increasing corporate partnerships, BfW collects and donates over 14,000 bikes annually, affecting lives from Rockville communities to remote villages in Africa to small schools in Bohol, Philippines.