Bikes for the World

Monday, December 9, 2013

Earning Is Learning

Recycle Bicycle in Harrisburg invited Bikes for the World into their warehouse this past weekend to raid the parts room. We were like kids in a candy store feeding a sweet tooth!

Wheels, derailleurs, and brakes, oh my!

Recycle Bicycle is basically a free community run bike shop serving the community in Harrisburg, PA. Director and Founder Ross Willard started the non-profit about 15 years ago and the demand for bikes just keeps growing. Good thing the supply is also still strong.

Willard collects unwanted, used bikes and helps get them back on the streets and into the hands of people who need them to get to work, the market, or school. Sound familiar?

Anyone who needs a bike can get one at Recycle Bicycle...for a small price. Grease and sweat. The shop is open Mondays and Tuesdays and Willard is on hand, along with other volunteers, to mentor anyone needing a bike repair or bike...they just need to do the repairs themselves. Every bike that leaves the shop will have working brakes and every kid on a bike will have a free helmet. He'll even give you a lock to make sure it doesn't get stolen.

Courtesy Recycle Bicycle
Willard doesn't believe in giving away bicycles. As with most things in life a greater sense of pride and ownership comes with something that is earned. And this earn-a-bike program comes with a Wiki-filled supply of life lessons to boot.

What Willard does give away is valuable knowledge. Whether he is working with men who came to him through a halfway house looking for transportation to get to work or out in his mobile bike shop teaching kids how to fix a flat and adjust their brakes, the end result empowers a bike owner of any age.

Courtesy Recycle Bicycle
Recycle Bicycle does, however, partner up with half a dozen or more local groups around the holidays to provide bicycles to kids in need. The warehouse was a flurry of activity this weekend; it's all hands on deck this time of year.

Who are these generous elf mechanics shivering in the unheated warehouse refurbishing bikes for Willard's organization? Many of them earned bikes themselves and returned to use their learned mechanic skills to give back to the organization that reached out and helped them. Life lesson learned. If that isn't reward enough, those huge smiles on the faces of the new bike owners should be.

Even without the organized collections that Bikes for the World oversees for donations, Recycle Bicycle gets thousands of bikes every year.  Last year they distributed close to 1,000 bikes and repaired twice as many flats. Since their mission is to refurbish bikes, their volunteers are focused on stripping bikes for parts and rebuilding bikes that will find a new home in their community.

What this leaves them with is shelves full of parts; too many to ever be able to use. They then turn around and donate excess stock to organizations like Bikes for the World and Pedals for Progress who ship them overseas where they are put to good use refurbishing the bikes donated to organizations in Africa and Central America.

Wendy Powell, Yvette Hess, and Chad Bieber
The truth is, there are so many unused bikes in America that bike organizations who recycle these bikes back into their neighborhoods often end up with more bikes than they know what to do with. It may be not enough man hours, not enough warehouse space, not enough need, or not the right type of bike; whatever the reason, Bikes for the World is often called to relieve another organization of surplus bikes and/or parts.

Since our mission is to supply large quantities of bikes and parts to other organizations without focusing on the time demanding chore of fixing them up, we are able to absorb, store, and distribute tons of bike parts, which are in high demand in the countries where we donate used bikes. This year Bikes for the World is on target to donate over 13,000 bikes to recipient organizations across the globe. Much of the haul from Recycle Bicycle will be included in our next shipment going to Village Bicycle Project in Ghana.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Steering Us In The Right Direction: Rich Robinson

Rich Robinson and Keith Oberg
Bikes for the World is proud to welcome Rich Robinson to our esteemed board. And although we honored Rich back in 2010 as our volunteer of the year, it seems fitting to honor him again as our Featured Volunteer of December.

Rich began working with Bikes for the World in 2007, following his retirement from federal service as a counsel (lawyer) for the Veteran's Administration. Rich has played a central role in our expansion, a constant presence at loadings and collections.

In searching for photos of Rich for this honor we found many of him lying in front of a group of hard working volunteers. We are certain this is just a trademark pose after a loading, but it's also, no doubt, a well deserved rest in our opinion.

Rich is one of the 'select few' veterans physically capable of handling the infamous, read: strenuous, "third levels" of bike loading. Any time of year, any warehouse are likely to find Rich in his old tattered Bikes for the World t-shirt either throwing bikes or mentoring youth volunteers. He is truly irreplaceable.

Rich has been the lead on several loadings and has not only orchestrated activities inside 'the can' but also in the warehouse. He has lent his patience and skill to work with new volunteer crews during sometimes hectic loadings. He has also taken the time to stop and work one-on-one with individuals struggling with a menacing bike part.

He has worked with scouts on their Eagle projects and new collection managers unsure of the process of 'prepping' bikes at an event. You can often find him at one of our most successful collections, spring or fall, in Arlington, at the annual recycling event ECARE. He might be helping a donor, spinning a wrench, or driving a truck...guaranteed he's got a smile on his face.

When Rich isn't onsite steering BfW in the right direction, you might find him navigating the streets of DC in his Previa van. He regularly picks up bikes at The Bike Rack on Q Street as well as other businesses and apartment buildings as needed.

Building on his familiarity with and enthusiasm for our operations and mission, Rich is transitioning to making an even more valuable contribution to our institutional growth. Over the winter in 2012-13, he and wife Sue led our new board of directors and staff through a first-time strategic planning process. The result was the recent adoption of an ambitious strategic plan outlined with an action plan prepared by staff members. Joining the board is a logical step in pushing this process forward and helping us grow. Welcome aboard Rich!

Rich is an accomplished bike mechanic, maintaining and modifying an ample fleet of personal bikes. He is a long-time recreational cyclist, most recently completing tours with wife Sue and friends in Spain, Sardinia, and Turkey. Given Rich's familiarity with BfW, bikes, and international cycling (not to mention his recent study of Spanish), Bikes for the World would love to get him to tours in Central America, Africa, or the Philippines--to visit our partner programs!!
PS...send pictures.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bikes Create Lifelong Skills at Goodwill

Goodwill Panama is a long time Bikes for the World supported project. To date we have donated over 16,000 bikes to this project alone.

Goodwill Panama trains and employs bike mechanics to reassemble and repair the bikes shipped from Bikes for the World. Many of these bikes are then sold in the Goodwill storefront and on occasion in fundraising activities in tourist areas in Panama City.

The money generated through these sales are used to help Goodwill Panama pay operational costs to run the program. Goodwill Panama provides work training and job opportunities to people with disabilities. The bike program in part supports the metal working shop, wheelchair repair, and of course bike mechanics.

Angel Anel Sanchez
My name is Angel Anel Sanchez. I am 15 years old and live in Nueva Libia, District of San Miguelito, Panama City, Panama. I live here with my mother, stepfather, a sister, and three brothers. 

I am currently not attending school, but hope to enter school next year. This past summer I started at Goodwill Panama. I had some knowledge on how to repair bicycles but at Goodwill I learned even more specific skills.

I got a bicycle from Bikes for the World and repaired it myself. I use the bike for transportation and to practice riding skills with my neighborhood friends. My stepfather has a welding workshop and I hope to learn welding skills next so that I can help in the workshop and bring more income into our home.

Joel Cordoba
My name is Joel Cordoba and I am 17 years old. I live in Los Andes #2, District of San Miguelito, Panama City, Panama. I live with my mother, grandmother, and two younger brothers.

I am currently in high school and hope to graduate in a couple years. I started at Goodwill Panama when I was 14. The first thing I learned there was how to repair bicycles. I used to work on my own, but it is now missing a chain ring. As soon as I find a replacement I will be able to ride again.

Goodwill Panama taught me about the tools and different parts of the bike. They then showed me how to repair bikes. I like passing on those skills to the younger people who have come to the Goodwill. I have also learned welding, wheelchair repair, and roof ventilator assembly while at Goodwill. Once I graduate high school I hope to enter INADEH (Human Development National Institute) where I will learn to be a professional chef.