Bikes for the World

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Building on Community and Service

This all started back in 2011 with two girls from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Those two girls, along with teacher Ken Woodward, would come out to King Farm a couple times a week to help us load containers to be shipped overseas.

This was part of their school wide Social Action program and over the years the popularity of working with Bikes for the World grew and grew. We continued to open up space year after to year to accommodate more girls during each session. They are now a crew of a dozen.

Several things have changed over the years to make this partnership beneficial for them, us, and especially our partners around the world. As the Stone Ridge team grew so did our need to find more work to keep them busy. It was also during that period that Bikes for the World really started focusing on the quality of our shipments going overseas.

If a main function of our mission was to create jobs through our donated bikes we needed to make sure those rural mechanics had parts to immediately start working on the bikes in need of repair. So we put wrenches, bottom bracket pullers, and chain breakers in the hands of these capable young women, and viola! mission accomplished.

We now had a regular team of students visiting our warehouse removing parts from marginal bikes we didn't want to ship overseas. While the frames may have been unsuitable to terrain we were shipping to, the parts would be invaluable to the mechanics. This allowed us to not only increase the value of the bikes we were shipping, but also include the necessary parts to fix and maintain the bikes already there.

And now that we finally settled into a comfortable warehouse and we know we are sticking around for a while, Operations Manager Bob Leftwich made it his priority to optimize our space to give this activity a permanent home. We now have half a dozen dedicated work spaces for our visiting 'mechanics'. Our parts wall is neat and organized. Whether you are stripping parts or building a bike no one is wasting time looking for the bin for that specific part.

With the addition of Executive Director Taylor Jones to our team, we can now open this activity up to more groups having both Bob and Taylor mentoring the youth around the more intricate bike parts and tools needed to strip down a frame. This is allowing us to be even more selective in what we ship as a full bike in our containers, cutting back on sending bikes that simply cannot be put back into use.

It's also giving school groups a more rounded experience when they come visit Bikes for the World. Just last month, our first group came as part of their bike mini-mester session. Georgetown Day School (GDS) is no stranger around Bikes for the World or our warehouse. In the past they have hosted many bike collections at the lower school and this past fall the upper school came out to load their first container.

Then the Dean of School Life, Quinn Killy, approached BfW about doing something a little more involved. His vision was to take two days and have a group of kids learn more about the importance of bikes around the world. They would then collect bikes and the kids would fix them up to be donated locally. The City Bikes mechanics came over to give a quick mechanics lesson to the teens and set them loose on repairing some of the donated bikes.

The following day the GDS students arrived in our warehouse with a truck full of bikes left over from the day before. They then helped us load a container of bikes heading to Wheels of Africa in Kenya. While the loading team worked with Bob to fill the container, Taylor worked with another group of students in the workbench area, stripping parts for the next shipment.

In the end the students learned a lot about what we do, and now have a better understanding of how valuable a discarded bike in the US can be to someone struggling to feed their family in Africa. A bicycle not only serves as affordable transportation, but it's a source of income and pride to many families. GDS also repaired and donated 15 bikes locally, to a group called No One Left Behind. This non profit was established to help Afghan and Iraqi combat interpreters with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) resettle safely in the United States.These war heroes put their lives in danger to help our soldiers. Many of them were forced to escape to safety in the US, but without the proper resources to succeed. No One Left Behind lends a hand to make that transition smoother.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

From Student to Teacher: Kadiatu, a Local Trailblazer

Kadiatu is a teacher at the Maria Inez Vocational School in Lunsar, Sierra Leone. She started working with Village Bicycle Project (VBP) several years ago and is one of the few female mechanics in the country.

Kadiatu is part of VBP's Learn to Ride program that started in Sierra Leone in 2009. Kadiatu trained to be a mechanic and she now keeps the bikes around the school in good working condition. She is also an inspiration to the girls at the school.

Kadiatu manages VBP's Bicycle Library program within Maria Inez School. This library was established to ensure that girls had bikes to get to and from school. For students who cannot afford to buy a bicycle this lending system allows them to borrow a bike to get to school. They are able to check out a bike much like a library book.

VBP initially formed in Ghana and when they tried to give bikes to girls they were faced with a problem. The boys kept stealing them. For years they continued to give bikes to boys while training girls to ride. The hope was that the girls could borrow their brothers' bikes. 

Kadiatu on the left with the girls in the Bike Library program

When they expanded the project to Sierra Leone they added the Learn to Ride component which was specifically focused on getting girls on bikes.  The Bike Library was added to ensure girls had access to bikes. Now girls had the opportunity to commute alongside their brothers, stay in school, and earn their degrees. They are becoming more confident as they ride and they are learning about mechanics and how to keep a bicycle clean and operational.

After five years, the program was so successful they took it Ghana and now run a Learn to Ride program there as well.

Annie is a student in Makeni, about an hour east of Lunsar (by car). Makeni is the main town near Makomp Bana, the village where Annie actually lives. The distance between her village and school makes her commute long and has negatively impacted many of her friends.

When VBP came to the community, many farmers signed up for the introductory class that goes over basic bike maintenance and includes a bicycle for every participant. The, mostly male, farmers planned to use the bikes to tend to their crops, carry more produce to market, and travel to the town center more quickly.

Annie wanted a bike to get to school. Many of her classmates had to find temporary homes in town so that they could get to school on time. Annie wanted to stay home to help her family but she also wanted to go to school. With her bike, Annie was able to live at home with her family and go to school rested and on time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Featured Volunteer: Alex Obriecht Race Pace Bicycles

Keith Oberg and Alex Obriecht

Alex Obriecht is the owner of Race Pace Bicycles which just opened its seventh store this past year. All locations serve as drop off points for Bikes for the World.Actually Keith and Alex have been working together even longer than we've been known as Bikes for the World.

Part of the success of our relationship extends well beyond Alex. In each store, there is an employee who champions Bikes for the fact it's probably several.

The Race Pace family is an extension of the BfW family and it shows in their presentation of our program. They know what we do, they follow our progress, and they share that information to donors who drop in their store to donate bikes.

Norm, Kevin, and Keith
And they don't just talk a good game. In 2013 Norman Jacobs, a part time employee at the Columbia location, bought a dozen brand new Kona bikes to donate to our program in Uganda.

Kevin Dolan, store manager at the time, has been supporting us since the very beginning and he's been moving around to the new locations as they open. We can tell he's taking our message with him.

Jon Posner used to work at the Ellicott City location. He LOVES BfW. He even took the collection 'on the road' setting up at the Howard County Green Festival every year. Collecting bikes, mentoring volunteers, and spreading the good work of BfW.

Jon and volunteer Jim Mitchell
It's so important to us to have these partnerships not only in the community but also in the bike industry. Working with bike shops allows us to increase the availability our donors have for a convenient drop off location. It saves us time to do bulk pick ups...some Race Pace Bicycle locations can hold 30 or more bikes at one time.

And it gets riders on better bikes! Often times we wind up with a donated bike because someone has upgraded or decided to buy a new bike rather than repair the old one. And Race Pace Bicycles serves the biking community unlike any other. These guys ride, they know bikes, and they know how to communicate with any type of rider. Their shops are welcoming to any level of cyclist and so is their staff. They were catering to the female cyclist before that was chic.

Alex has built an incredible bike business. They have connected to the community they serve and they continue to listen to their wants and needs and they deliver. It is this commitment that has carried them through rocky times that wiped out many other local (and bigger chain) stores.

They never once turned their back on our mission and continue to help deliver quality used bicycles to our partners overseas. Every year they get more and more bikes and Race Pace has been backing that financially as well. They feel so strongly about what we do and what it takes to achieve our goals that they see to it that we meet our $10/bike donation goal.

Race Pace has also been the drive-chain making possible our donations to the Baltimore Christmas Bike Project over the past decade. Donating bikes back to the community has been the mission of our partner in Columbia, St John’s United Methodist-Presbyterian Church and St John the Evangelist Catholic Church. The hardest part of a donation like this is our bikes come to us in need of repairs. Race Pace hopped in with a solution and has been making those repairs AND finding bikes for the kids in this project. More than 150 bikes since the beginning. Kudos and thanks to Alex and the entire Race Pace family.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Featured Volunteer: Joe Bolandrina

Joe Bolandrina has three container loadings under his belt, all at different locations. He's helped manage and mentor two or three bike collections for us. He's even done shop pick ups and individual pick ups. Impressive but not overly unusual you say?

Did we mention he lives more than 400 miles away?? No lie. This guy is north, north, north of us just outside Boston.

He only makes the trip for Bikes for the Philippines containers, because he has a personal connection to the program. And we only ship there once a year or who knows how often we'd see the Bolandrinas...because he doesn't come alone. And a winter loading doesn't deter Joe in the least.

Joe with Joel Esguerra
This year he found out about the loading date and he scheduled a truck rental. He didn't even hesitate or check the weather report first. And yes, Boston was getting hammered with snow. Nothing will stop Joe when it comes to helping out Filipinos or spreading the joy he gets from riding a bike.

Joe is a force unlike any other. He is almost always grinning ear to ear and he's full of energy and excitement. It's fun to have him around the warehouse. He's quick to jump in where needed, prepping bikes, walking them across the warehouse floor, or hopping up to load third levels.

His first visit to BfW was waaay down at our Lorton location where he also brought his wife and two kids, Lilly and Max. They assisted Stone Ridge and loaded the container in record time. His second trip was our third container heading to the Philippines where he again worked alongside the Stone Ridge crew (and Katie Ledecky!). We had a visit from the Philippine Ambassador that time.

Joe got the word out this year that he was making the trip and had a little mini collection before he came. His rented truck was stuffed to the grill with bikes from friends, neighbors and local bike shops lending a hand to his cause. He brought spare parts and tires, the works! This guy is a true class act, and a huge barrel of fun to be around.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Update from the Philippines: Eunice and Cristy Graduate!

Eunice (left) and Cristy (right) were some of our first beneficiaries in the Bikes for Philippines program started in 2011. Both girls received bikes in their junior year of high school to help them stay in school and graduate.

Both Cristy and Eunice graduated high school in 2013 and both received a free scholarship to continue their education at the university level learning computer science.

Eunice and Cristy, continuing their computer studies, interned at NCR in Cebu, and in 2016 they received their computer science degrees from San Carlos University.

Eunice attended Baclayon High School and was selected to receive a bicycle in part because her house was one of the farthest from the school of all the students.

Her commute was also very steep and rocky and the bike skills she learned through Bikes for the Philippines in school really helped.

Many mornings the trails were covered in mud puddles and her bicycle made passing through them quick and easy and left her shoes clean and dry. Most importantly Eunice would arrive to school on time and ready to learn.

It was very exciting to continue on to a new school (and new island) alongside Cristy, her school friend and fellow bike beneficiary.

Eunice is now a Software Test Engineer at NCR, where she originally interned. Living in Cebu, she enjoys a very active lifestyle and likes hanging out with friends and experiencing new things. She can also be found rolling around on a bike occasionally with her boyfriend.

She is grateful for the trail of success that old beefy Magna took her down with Bikes for the Philippines and is excited to continue this new journey in her life.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Update from the Philippines: Crea

Back in 2014 we introduced you to Crea, who received a bike in the Philippines to help her complete school. This bike was donated through a Rockville youth who earned the bike through the city's Earn-A-Bike project known as TERRIFIC.

At the time Crea was a junior in school and walking nearly four miles to get to school. Her father was a laborer earning a living for his family. Her mom stayed home to take care for Crea and her three siblings. Money was tight but Crea loved school and wanted to graduate and continue her education to find a path to a better life.

Gabrielle Nadler is the generous donor who provided the bike to Crea. She was just 10 when she earned the bike and donated it back to our program. She's soon gearing up to drive and we thought we'd check in to see where Crea is and whether or not she graduated.

You know- she did! Crea is now studying communications in college and is looking to graduate in a couple years. She lives in Cebu, a neighboring island where she goes to school.

She is doing well, still loves school and loves spending time outside with her friends.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Ron Watts

This guy. What would we do without Ron Watts? Just look at him picking up and moving not one, not two, but three a time!

It would be understating Ron's worth to focus on him moving bikes, but quite a bit of his time has been spent on just that, moving bikes for Bikes for the World's South Carolina spin off. Not just some bikes, but hundreds and hundreds of bikes.

In the 2017 collection season South Carolina was critical in supplying bikes to our overseas partners as we saw an increase in demand. The crew in Charleston actually loaded three containers of bikes in 2017, some of those bikes coming from collection points in NC as well.

As we prepared to move into our current semi-permanent warehouse in March of this past year we worked to deplete the number of bikes we had on hand in DC to make that move more efficiently. This could have delayed our ability to ship bikes to our partners who were in desperate need of affordable transportation. With the addition of bikes on hand in Charleston we were able to keep our shipments moving seamlessly.

In the spring of 2017, a community of Methodist churches spanning the state joined forces to help collect bikes for our partners around the world. Over a dozen churches set out to make a huge impact in our program with the goal of collecting 100 bikes in each of their communities. The results were staggering; one church actually collected nearly 300 bikes!

This creates a logistical challenge for our drivers...and in South Carolina, that was often Ron Watts. Just this past fall Ron drove over 400 miles ONE WAY to cover a couple collections as far north as Raleigh North Carolina. He had the biggest Penske truck we can legally rent, which we assumed could easily hold the 180 bikes we expected from both events. To our surprise 180 bikes is what ONE collection site ended up with; the other netted nearly 120.

Somehow, someway Ron squeezed those 300 bikes into the Penske for the long drive back to Charleston. Now we have to assume quite a few of those must have been kid sized bikes for them all to fit, but he even had an adult sized tricycle in there so we know it was no easy feat.

In addition to driving and assisting at collections Ron also managed the warehouse space in Charleston and supervised the Navy volunteers who came to help prep bikes on occasion. Ron assisted Paul Keefer, the area coordinator in SC doing anything asked of him: doing big pick ups, individual picks up, going by partner bike shops, mentoring young volunteers at collections, and helping with the loadings.

As we head into 2018 South Carolina will break off and operate independently from Bikes for the World, doing what they have been doing, collecting bikes in the community and changing lives around the world. BfW will continue to offer advice and support where possible but we are super proud to see this effort growing into something that can stand alone and better serve the community at the local level. We know Ron Watts is a huge part of the equation making this all possible.