Bikes for the World

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How'd He Do That

Volunteer Phil Ruth's Load in Shepherdstown WV
One question we get a lot is Do you pick up individual bikes? The short answer is: No. Our drivers would never be able to get 30-40 bikes packed into their pick ups collecting individual bikes, not to mention the time it would take to do so.

We make it easy and convenient for donors by partnering with over 100 community groups and over a dozen bike shops in the Metro DC area. This gives folks a multitude of options on where to donate a bike throughout the year. We wish we could pick up each and every bike but then we wouldn't have time to do what we do.

Not a very efficient way to transport bikes
And what we do is ship over a dozen 40' containers annually to our partner programs overseas. Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of volunteers helping us process bikes throughout the year we can typically pack over 500 bikes per container.

Doing the math you'll see Bikes for the World collects and ships over 10,000 bikes annually, making us the nation's largest bicycle reuse program.
BfW bikes at Lorton
Over the year, in addition to bike shops and collections, we also regularly pick up bikes from universities, police departments, recycle centers, and condo and apartment buildings.

If you work at one of these areas or managed a collection for Bikes for the World you have probably met Nick. Nick Colombo is our Operations Manager and does a lot of the bike pick ups. We also have a small handful of dedicated volunteers who use their vehicles in ways they probably weren't meant to be used in order to deliver bikes to one of our storage areas. You can pick them out by the grease marks on the ceiling and the unmistakable odor of WD40 emanating from their cars.

Nick and Chris of Spokes Etc. Loading bikes

The word around the water bottle (we don't sit still long enough to have water cooler chats) is Nick is a bike stacker extraordinaire. In the bike collecting community Nick is a bit of a celebrity. A quick scan of his facebook page and you might find a friendly competition between similar organizations like Working Bikes, boasting who got more bikes in their truck.

"Interesting. You're using the "shuffle the top layer in" method instead of the "stack them on top" method. I may have to revisit this." said one Working Bikes employee.

Nick swears by his method. 15 upside down, 15 on top, and then he throws more flat on top of that. His personal best? Somewhere between 43-48 bikes, now that he added a bike rack to the back. Yes, this is a regular sized pick up truck NO TRAILER.

"I've never lost a bike," brags Colombo.

Nick with the Blue Flame
Unfortunately, he has lost a truck. It's true. The Blue Flame petered out on him. He used to stack about 35 bikes in that little truck of his and "you had to floor it to get up a hill".

His new truck is a little bigger. And he outfitted it with extra springs and wider tires to give him 500lbs extra towing capacity.

What it's missing is Flames. And he's taking requests on colors if you want to weigh in.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Removing Pedals and Prejudices

Keith Oberg working with CFP in 2011
In addition to our work overseas, one of the aspects of our program at Bikes for the World that we are most proud of is the community service projects we create right here in DC. We work with Eagle Scout candidates, Rotary clubs, school groups, companies...just about all walks of life.

But it's groups like the recent one that came out to help load at Lorton that really cause us to pause and realize the scope of benefit Bikes for the World generates from our work. Loadings are a great Team Building activity we offer to a variety of groups. Team-building with Bikes for the World is a powerful way to unite a group that also offers a sense of accomplishment and greater good. Develop communication skills, build confidence, and identify weaknesses all while providing life altering transportation to remote villages across the globe.

Cyprus youth teams coming together
Meet the Cyprus Friendship Program (CFP). For several years CFP has been partnering with BfW every summer to help load bikes to ship overseas to transform lives. What is important to note, however, is how this activity is transforming their own lives.

The Cyprus Friendship Program offers a unique experience for teens living amongst the prejudices of the deeply divided Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot island of Cyprus. The goal is to introduce both sides to each other and help them recognize commonalities while dispelling a hatred that spans almost 40 years since its civil war.

CFP takes teens from both sides of the divide and partners them together in a year long program that teaches them how to work together. This program is proof that peace IS possible and offers inspiration and hope to the island of Cyprus.

During the summer, the Cypriot youth pairs are hosted by American families for the month of July to further promote friendship and understanding among these two divided groups. The hope is to provide a model elsewhere in the Middle East.

It's about more than just a bike
The youth pairs are sent to 6 different areas in the US, two of which are right here in the DC area. BfW Board Member, Tom McCarthy, has been bringing a Cypriot group of about 20 teens to help BfW load containers and process bikes for shipping for several years now.

 "Before we give the several pairs in the DC area training in Conflict Resolution and Peace Building, it's important to further break down their caution about the teens from the other side and build them into a team. The Bikes for the World experience has been perfect for this. It allowed the teens to spend the better part of a day achieving the goal of loading a shipping container together," said McCarthy, who is also a CFP Maryland/DC Coordinator.

“….you are doing one of the best jobs in the world. You are helping, sending bikes to people that you don’t know who they are…” Halil Leelener, participant, Cyprus Friendship Program
“Thank you so much for organizing Bikes for the World and being just awesome.” ‘Buse’, Cyprus Friendship Program
“You were so patient with us, you taught us a lot of useful skills and also you were fun to speak with.” Kyriacos, Cyprus Friendship Program 2012
Watch a 2010 video from the CFP highlighting the program and all the team building activities:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Hottest Volunteers

George Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurs
We won't admit to having 'favorites' at BfW but there are always All-Stars when it comes to volunteering. In June that stand out group may have been the George Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurs.

Over the past month BfW has been busy out at Lorton every single weekend. Partners in Costa Rica, Kenya, Panama, and Barbados are all receiving containers already this summer via Bikes for the World (and in large part thanks to Dick's Sporting Goods).

BfW stays very busy in the spring and the fall and often uses the summer and winter to take a break, catch up on paperwork, and prepare for the upcoming season. 2012 brought a beneficial twist: 4,000 bikes came in and filled our storage site in Lorton.

Lorton bikes at capacity
After the challenge of receiving, unloading, and storing all these bikes, came the turn around. Every Friday and Saturday in June and July you will find BfW staff and dedicated volunteers unstacking and loading all of these bikes for shipping overseas.

Fortunately we have the help of amazing volunteers from students to corporations who have signed up to participate in these team building loads as groups. This gives BfW the power to load quickly and efficiently.
Tree damage at Lorton storage site.

Little did we know, this would prove to be incredibly important. As many of you probably know, the DC area experienced a Super Storm the weekend of June 30th. After a sweltering Friday, loading in temperatures above 100 degrees, a derecho (I mean this thing is so rare, spellcheck doesn't even know the word!) swept through the area with winds of upwards of 80mph.

Over one million residents found themselves without power, some for over a week. And unlike most storms this one did not bring relief from the heat.

Despite the odds, the All-Star group from George Mason showed up eager to work on Saturday morning. For those of you who have been out to Lorton, you know it's a bit of a drive up to the old gym from Lorton Road. But the derecho knocked down trees and blocked the road up to the old prison, so everyone had to park by the road and hike up to the trailer.

Even though we don't have electricity normally out there, no one in the area had it this weekend. Finding ice, cold drinks, even gas for the car proved to be difficult for these dedicated volunteers out to help BfW finish loading. And after another hot day in an even hotter shipping container, some of these folks had to go home to no AC or electric.

Hats off to everyone who helped with this record setting weekend's load. Tiffany Hsia, Katrina Delany, Ian Burpo, Kaitlyn Hammack, Taylor Scarce, April Emile-Theil, Frank Petricoin, Steve Tomey, and the aptly named Jennifer all ROCK! And of course Sarah and Nick who worked through the record breaking 104 degree Friday into the challenging Saturday finish. They say this was the hottest June day in over 140 years and I think Sarah Miller might call this group our hottest volunteers!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Director's Letter to BRAIN

BfW volunteers at REI Fairfax Collection
Our last post about our work with local bike shops and the impact that has on the community reminded me of a recent letter to the editor from BfW Director Keith Oberg to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN). BRAIN is to the bike industry what the American Journal of Medicine is to medical professions.

BRAIN had done a piece on non-profits in the cycling industry in February 2012. The following is Oberg's response:

"Bikes for the World is the nation's largest bicycle reuse program--9,000 used bikes collected and donated in 2011, 60,000 since founding. We are creating a potentially significant model for raising the numbers of cyclists and the visibility of cycling at home and abroad.

Bikes for the World began as a project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) in January 2005. Operating initially under WABA enabled us to start up on a shoestring. We were operationally and financially autonomous from the beginning, but it also meant that we were operating "under the radar screen" invisible to many in the industry.

That is now changing. BfW just finished its seventh year operationally and first year as an independent nonprofit organization. With 9,000 bikes shipped in 2011, valued at $55 apiece, we handled about $500,000 in material donations, which went to nonprofit partners locally (e.g., earn-a-bike programs) and overseas to countries including Barbados, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Namibia, Panama, Philippines, South Africa, and Uganda.

Add to this the 5,000 bikes worth $275,000 that we shipped on behalf of the Chicago-based Working Bikes Cooperative--placing their bikes with selected, qualified overseas programs--and the total of bicycles handled comes to more than 14,000 bikes during 2011. We look forward to an even bigger year in 2012.

BfW is not only promoting cycling as transportation overseas; it promotes cycling here in the U.S. through working closely with the mid-Atlantic region's independent bicycle retailers. More than 20 area retailers host periodic donation events or accept donations of bicycles on our behalf on an ongoing basis. They also help owners of bicycles no longer meeting their needs to dispose of their unsatisfactory old bikes and make room to purchase high-quality bikes--bikes purchased at these participating retailers.

It's a terrific win-win situation. Not only do our donors, volunteers, and the cycling industry benefit here; people overseas benefit as well. Bikes that cannot be economically serviced here can be reconditioned overseas, generating employment and building a larger market for cycling."

Local shop partners: