Bikes for the World

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.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Creating Jobs and Increasing Wages

As soon as a Bikes for the World container hits the ground overseas its impact on the community is immediate. From unloading bikes, to recording inventory, and especially repairing and rebuilding bikes by a skilled mechanic, the arrival of the container first and foremost generates jobs.

In Guinea-Bissau our container directly affected seven established bike repairers who were called upon by Global Fairness Initiative to help refurbish the bikes donated through BfW in 2015.

Bacar Mamudu is 65 years old and has been repairing bikes for the past 16 years. His bike business boomed when our bikes arrived in need of repair. Bacar charged for repairs and offered his services on loan to villagers who could not pay upfront.

Bacar was thrilled to see so many bikes coming into the community, "Now I receive so many more bikes per month in need of repair. This has had a positive impact on my monthly income." Bacar went on to say he was learning many new skills working on the bikes which are different than other bikes he's seen in the past.

Famta Fati is a member of the local farming association APALCOF. She purchased one of the bikes donated to APALCOF last year through BfW. Now that Famta has a bicycle she is able to commute to her horticulture farm much faster than when she was traveling by foot.

Previously Famta walked several miles a day in the sweltering sun just to get to and from her field. After working all day in her crops, without shade, she often felt worn out and less productive.

She now reports having more time in the fields and at home not to mention more energy to do her work. She feels much healthier and less stressed. She is also using the bike to help transport her produce to a roadside market.

Maimuna Blade dropped out of school before graduating, but is working toward saving enough money to go back to continue her education. She purchased a bike from APALCOF which she uses for work, errands, and social activities.

"My bike encourages me to work harder not only to go back to school, but also in carrying on other community activities which are far apart."

Maimuna works on her family's agricultural farm and uses her bike to collect fire wood and carry animal feed to the farm. She is able to save twice as much money now that she has a bicycle, making her dream of returning to school within reach.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Update From Guinea-Bissau

In 2015, Bikes for the World added a new partner in Guinea-Bissau in collaboration with the Global Fairness Initiative. Over 400 bikes were donated through the Guinea-Bissau Livelihood Initiative, which just came to an end this year.

Many of our newer partners come about through larger projects looking to expand transportation solutions while also increasing capital to help fund the overall mission of the project. Fixing and selling our donated bikes brings needed transportation to isolated villages, helps establish new jobs and businesses, and helps sustain the initial project.

In Madagascar, we worked in tandem with Transaid to help support a multi-year effort to bring better health care to rural areas of the country. A bike component was introduced toward the end of the project to help fund aspects of the health care initiative such as the emergency transport system and health insurance policies for the members of the co-op. The idea is that when the project ends, and in turn much of the overseeing support from the establishing non profit, the program will continue and thrive being sustained by its own community.

In Guinea-Bissau that larger non profit is Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), which helped establish the Guinea-Bissau Livelihood Initiative (GBLI) to support and strengthen local farming associations and their communities. Similarly, as in Madagascar, the bike component was introduced to help support projects initiated through this larger program.

For GBLI, that larger program centered around food security. GBLI implemented a series of interventions tailored to the unique needs of its beneficiary communities. These interventions aimed to strengthen the foundation of beneficiaries’ farming activities so that they could progress from subsistence farming to farming as a business.

APALCOF is a women's farming collective of more than 3,500 smallholder producers singled out by GFI. GBLI worked with APALCOF and its members to strengthen their capacity, increase access to markets, and ultimately improve their livelihoods.

In collaboration with Bikes for the World and GFI, APALCOF distributed our donated bikes in 2016. The bikes and spare parts were sold to farmers in Bafata and Gabu at discounted prices. The money earned through bike sales was reinvested into a bank account to support the micro-credit program, thus increasing access to loans to beneficiaries.

The bikes served as a means of transportation for farmers during their farming activities, often eliminating extra time and energy exerted to travel from the wells to the field or from their homes to markets. Children also used the bikes to go to school, some of which were upwards of 5 kilometers from their home village. Additionally, the bikes were particularly helpful to women and families, who used the bikes to go to health centers.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Ellen Condon

Bikes for the World is blessed with an amazing crew of volunteers who champion our mission at school, work, home...sometimes to strangers they meet on Metro. The reason we are able to affect the great number of lives we do around the world is because of our huge volunteer network. Many of our volunteers have been with us for years, even decades. Some times when they retire we even get to see more of them.

And sometimes we don't. Ellen Condon has been with Bikes for the World for over a decade. She has helped us collect bikes, promoted our cause to the bikers at NIH (where she worked) and even lent us her truck from time to time when Yvette had too many bikes to transport.

But as of last week Ellen retired from NIH and is getting ready to move out of state. While she will no longer be dropping bikes by the warehouse, she will no doubt continue to follow our progress online. But we sure will miss her around here.

Just this past summer Ellen helped put us in touch with the NIH Police Department which had collected over 40 abandoned bikes on campus. They recognized these bikes could be put to good use so they looked for an alternative to scrapping them. The NIH Police coordinated the effort with the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club, which Ellen was a member of, to get these bikes to Bikes for the World.

It's connections like this that have helped grow our organization over the years. Since Ellen found out about Bikes for the World we've nearly doubled our annual intake of bikes. It's our partnerships with bike shops, police departments, condo associations, universities, etc. that have really kept our organization rolling, especially in our slower collection months. This supply of bikes has allowed us to increase our number of donations per year and increase the number of partners we support around the globe. It's invaluable. And it's through dedicated volunteers like Ellen that we often 'find' these sources of bikes.

"I met Ellen, like I meet many of our volunteers for the first time, through email. That probably went on for a couple years until she needed to drop off a sewing machine and we realized we were practically neighbors. Now whenever I was overwhelmed with bikes in my yard I could just call Ellen and she came right over.

"Who doesn't like having a friend that owns a truck? You never know when you might need to move something. But how many truck owners will let you stack 20 bikes in the bed and then drive them cross town looking like the Beverly Hill Billies!?! That's Ellen," says Yvette Hess, Outreach Coordinator.

And Keith Oberg, Director remembers Ellen even further back, "Ellen was always such a cheerful, optimistic, and welcoming presence, whether at collections or at King Farm. She was a joy to work with and interact with other volunteers, she made the social aspect of Bikes for the World so much more positive. I went home smiling at the end of a day. Our loss is Michigan’s gain!" 

Monday, November 13, 2017

My Time, My Ride, My Choice

In 2015 Bikes for the World sent our first container of bikes to the established Moroccan program known as DARNA (Our House). DARNA was started, and continues to operate as a safe home for women and children.

Recognizing a mother's role in a strong, thriving family, DARNA put emphasis on creating opportunities and training for women and young girls. To assist in the effort to keep kids enrolled in school, DARNA introduced bicycles to those students at risk of dropping out due to long, tiring commutes.

From our initial donation, over 400 students received bicycles in northern Morocco. 117 of these student beneficiaries were girls.

This summer Bikes for the World helped place another container of bikes with DARNA through St. Louis Bicycle Works. Bicycle Works operates a youth program in St. Louis and a couple times a year finds itself with an overstock of bikes for their program.

When they approached us this year to place another container we identified the need from Morocco and found St. Louis had the type of bikes requested. It was a match!

This shipment arrived late in September and students have already been paired with bikes. This time, the bikes were distributed among nearly 40 different communities and the kids ranged in age from 8-17.

We checked back in with several of the students who received bikes from the first donation in 2015. Laila (on the left) loves her bike because she can go to school with her friends. Her mom agrees, noticing that since her daughter received a bike her grades have improved. Laila now has more time to study and arrives to school early and less tired.

Miriem (on the right) uses her bike to visit her Grandmother who lives far away. She can now travel that distance on her own schedule, without needing to wait for public transportation which can also be expensive. "I feel much more independent now."

Miriem also enjoys the physical exercise her bike provides. "I feel like a bird, I love it!"

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Update From Morocco

Bikes of the World is excited to announce that we have placed a second container of bikes with one of our newer partners established in 2015.

DARNA (meaning Our House) operates in northern Morocco helping to give a leg up to the under served population of the region. Our bikes were introduced to the program in 2015 in an effort to empower students.

Our first container was distributed among four different school districts to help students remain in school by easing their long commutes which had previously been done on foot.

In August of this year, we shipped a second container to DARNA with the help of sister organization St. Louis Bicycle Works. The bikes were reconditioned and donated to more than 40 villages near Jebel Bouhachem Nature Reserve.

Tarik and Anas
Tarik and Anas live just outside the bustling city of Tangier in northern Morocco.  Both guys received bikes from our first donated container a couple years ago.

Tarik told us that his bicycle is very important to him because he could not afford to pay for transportation. From his home in Ziaten, Tangier is about a 90 minute walk.

Now that he has a bike, he reports better attendance in school. He also said he now signs up for more training programs offered through school because he knows he can get there.

Physically Tarik now finds himself in better shape, which he knows is important to his overall health. He is also very proud to own a bicycle and says, "having a bicycle makes me more independent!"

Friday, November 3, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Nick & Sarah

Yvette, Nick, and Sarah saying goodbye and good luck
We are proud to honor our own Nick and Sarah this month as our featured volunteer(s). It goes without saying that Nick gave so much to Bikes for the World over his four year tenure with us-and even from St. Louis, he's still giving.

When Nick started at BfW back in 2010 we were still operating under the umbrella of WABA without an official board. Nick's position didn't even exist before him. And look at us now!

When Nick came on board, he took over operations, managing the loadings, pick ups, and covering nearly every weekend of collections. It felt like the guy never had a day off...until August when we wouldn't see him for a month.

Shady Grove haul with Stone Ridge students
Nick helped establish our relationship with Stone Ridge back when the school first joined forces with us in 2012 and there were only two students. Nick helped expand that program, tripling the number the following year and adding the mechanic component that allows us to salvage usable parts off otherwise unusable bikes.

Nick also oversaw half a dozen storage sites for BfW, many of them at the same time. He was there when the first Dick's Sporting Goods trailer delivered bikes to our Lorton warehouse and there when the last came into our Arlington warehouse.

Who needs a ladder when you have a table
Nick was the muscle behind our loadings and pick ups. He also helped establish some of the organizational practices we still employ today. More importantly Nick engaged with our donors, supporters, and volunteers with an attitude that never let on that he was overworked and understaffed. Nick always got the job done...with a smile on his face.

He mentored our weekly volunteer night out at King Farm which provided many SSL hours to students in Montgomery County. Nick was also joined by several older volunteers who came every week to help strip parts or exchange the latest beer recipes with home brewer Nick.

Sarah with her students from Eastern HS
And we cannot overlook Sarah who came with Nick to the DC area and ended up marrying him. Sarah also loves bikes and is passionate about our mission at BfW. On several occasions, even after Nick left BfW, Sarah would bring her students to a loading for service hours and to provide an important lesson about community and helping on a global level.

We also appreciate the support Sarah gave Nick while he served as Operations Manager for BfW. She sacrificed quite a bit, with the long hours and sometimes seven-days-a-week schedule Nick often held.

"I was very impressed with Nick's work ethic and dedication to the organization and its mission," said long time volunteer Ken Woodard of Stone Ridge. He added that Nick had a great knowledge of bikes and how they work and could relay that expertly in language that made sense to any new 'mechanic'.

 Last year the Nick and Sarah Combo took off for a great adventure in St. Louis. They would soon be two of the founding members of Arcana Distilling which is starting to really take shape. Instead of hauling a trailer full of bikes Nick is now moving antique cathedral windows for their new warehouse.

They are firming up architectural plans on the old 1950s American Legion Hall that will soon hold their barrels filled with locally grown and produced Whiskeys and Brandys. If you are ever in St. Louis, you should stop in for snifter.

And speaking of St. Louis...Nick is actually the guy who connected us to Bicycle Works in St. Louis, where he now occasionally volunteers.

Bicycle Works loading crew in August
BWorks works in the community refurbishing old bikes and teaching kids about bikes and tools. They also occasionally end up with a container full of bikes to donate to one of our global partners. This past August they helped us out by supplying over 400 bikes to one of our newest partners, DARNA in Morocco.

For their first container donation back in 2012, Nick went out to St. Louis to show them the ins and outs to loading. Since then they have donated thousands of bikes to our partners around the world. And this last loading was extra special with Nick on hand to help once again. THANK YOU NICK for everything; WE MISS YOU!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

We Are Phoenix

What is Phoenix Bikes? In mythology a phoenix is a bird with a cyclical life, that is to say it is reborn, given another life. Not too surprising then that Phoenix Bikes is a local bike organization that is bringing old bikes back to life.

The Phoenix crew assisting at BfW collection in Arlington
Also not surprising that Bikes for the World would be all about supporting Phoenix Bikes. Based in Arlington Virginia, Phoenix Bikes is right within our target donation area, 'the world'. Bikes for the World is proud to regularly donate bikes to this local program and here's why:

Like all of our beneficiary projects around the world, Phoenix Bikes is about so much more than just bikes. Phoenix Bikes works with area youth, teaching them about bikes, but more importantly helps build young leaders and strong community connections. They are learning skills to revive a bike, but also building skills that will take them even farther in life than that bike ever will.

Through their after school programs, Phoenix, in a sense, is also recruiting young mechanics. Phoenix is in more than half a dozen Arlington schools teaching kids how to fix a flat, adjust their brakes, and how to properly shift while riding.

They then work in a team to bring a bike back from the ashes that will be donated to a community member in need. Giving back to the community comes first. In the end, everyone comes to the Phoenix Bikes shop and has the opportunity to build their very own bike. Some like Noe and Robel never leave.

Noe is a guy who knows this program well. He has over four years under his belt greasy mechanic apron. He joined Phoenix Bikes in the summer of 2013 and he instantly impressed everyone with his attention to detail and incredible patience, traits that have served him well behind the bike stand.

Noe has recently taken on a new role with Phoenix Bikes: bike club instructor at Hammond School in Alexandria. He also serves as shop manager during "Youth Run the Shop Days" at the Phoenix compound. He's the captain of Team Phoenix, the racing squad, often leads community rides, and  serves as the Youth Advisory Council President.

There is absolutely no doubt that Phoenix Bikes is helping to build leaders. Noe is very effective in his leadership roles because one of his key missions is to make meetings fun and more importantly, he wants to make sure everyone feels welcome and has a platform to be heard.

Bringing an activity like riding or even mechanics into a school brings with it a unique experience for some kids who may otherwise feel left out. For a student who isn't an athlete on a team, they sometimes miss that camaraderie a team provides and of course learning to work together toward a common goal.

Robel was introduced to Phoenix Bikes at TJ Middle School back in 2014. He earned his first bike, outgrew it, and earned a replacement. He grew into racing, both mountain and road bikes. He is a strong member of Team Phoenix serving as role model to the younger riders coming through the shop.

Robel also participates in the Phoenix Saturday rides where they often incorporate community service within the ride. He has volunteered with BfW during collection events we've had in Arlington. Robel joined Phoenix this summer in an advanced mechanics camp. He proves day after day he is strong both on and off the bike. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Team Phoenix

This year Arlington was home to the National Youth Bike Summit which welcomed bike advocates of all ages from across the country and beyond. Our own Phoenix Bikes hosted the event including setting up key speakers, some, young mechanics from their own shop.

The summit brings minds and passions together to help build a bike friendly future. Involving our youth seemed like a logical step in this began the YOUTH Bike Summit. Involving Phoenix Bikes in that was, well, a no-brainer.

Phoenix Bikes engages the youth around Arlington by giving them one of the coolest after school hang outs around. It's much more than just learning how to use tools to work on bikes however. These young mechanics also learn valuable life skills like problem solving, teamwork, processing, networking and communicating.

Samara is a sophomore at H-B Woodlawn and was one of the speakers this past weekend at the Summit. She hooked up with Phoenix after participating in a school club associated with the organization. She liked learning about bikes and working with the tools so much she continued working with Phoenix through their after school opportunities at the shop.

Now a youth mechanic at Phoenix Bikes, Samara earned her way up the ranks, improving her ride along the way. Students who come through the program have the ability to learn and earn, building bikes. One bike they fix up is donated into the community and the other they can keep for themselves. Samara now does more than ride, she races. A founding member of Team Phoenix, Samara races road, mountain, cyclocross- you name it, if it has wheels she's going to make them spin!

Samara is also very passionate about sharing her love of biking and racing with others so she was a natural fit to speak at the Summit. Besides sharing thoughts on racing Samara is also passionate about promoting cycling for everyone, most especially women.

Usman and Erik are also founding members of Team Phoenix and came up through the wrenching ranks of Phoenix Bikes. Like Samara, Erik joined Phoenix through a school program at Washington Lee High School. Erik knew all about Phoenix through his older brother Augustin.

Erik enjoys sharing his passion for cycling with new youth coming through the shop. He stands out as a leader by helping with repairs and mentoring new youth mechanics during busy days at the shop. Because of his comfort on the bike, he is also a great ride leader for community rides on the weekend.

Usman had a bit of a longer commute to Phoenix Bikes. Usman grew up in India where bikes are very popular, however, Usman never owned one. He definitely understands the connection between access and infrastructure. His father never let him ride further than 30 feet in front of his house because it wasn't safe.

At 13, Usman moved to the U.S. with his family. When he found out about Phoenix Bikes he 'moved in' making it a second home. He quickly earned his first bike through the program and then upgraded and tweaked until he was racing on the team. As more and more kids turned to racing, Phoenix Bikes answered by implemented a points for parts program that allows youth to upgrade their bike parts for work in the shop.

Usman is now racing for the local DT Racing team (as is Erik). He's only a sophomore at Wakefield High School, but recently started working at the local Trek Bicycle shop building bikes.

Monday, October 2, 2017

#YBS17: Shifting Gears

What is a Youth Bike Summit? Last time we introduced you to a local group of young writers who are also learning about bikes and becoming young riders. Some of those Story Riders will be attending the Youth Bike Summit this weekend...but what exactly is a youth bike summit?

Simply put it's the future of cycling. Every year Washington DC is home to the National Bike Summit, where businesses, organizations, advocates, bikers, and the like all gather to talk about ideas, plans, and facilities that worked or needed improvement in the grand scheme of making cycling safer and more accessible to everyone.

The one step that has propelled biking farther and faster than any other component is a change in ideas. And where is there an untapped resource of fresh ideas? The professionals of tomorrow.

In so many of our cities, cycling sat on a back burner when it came to laying out roads and bridges and sidewalks. Bike sharing was something that happened in other cities not our cities. But all of that is changing. People are riding bikes more and because of that our infrastructure must change to meet that shift.

Around the country there are many youth based bike organizations that teach mechanics, help kids earn bikes, and get young people out on our roads and more comfortable on bikes. These kids are the future of cycling and their numbers are growing. They are growing up, living and working in our cities, and they are using bikes on a daily basis. They are passionate about bikes, they are experiencing the challenges put in place by car-centric designers and engineers, and they have ideas. The Youth Bike Summit  connects them to like-minded allies and gives them a voice.

At this year's summit, youth and adults will come together to talk about issues immediately affecting youth and cycling, such as riding on trails, career opportunities in the bike industry, bike facilities on college campuses, etc. There is even a panel about relationships with law enforcement and how the bike can help bridge the gap in communication.

The bottom line is this, our youth will be the next drivers on the road, they may already be there. Educating them about the rights of cyclists will make them better drivers and make the roads safer for everyone. They may also be our future engineers designing our roads and communities. They most definitely will be tomorrow's advocates fighting to have our voices heard.

The Youth Bike Summit comes to Arlington this year and is being hosted by our own youth group Phoenix Bikes. This experience has helped introduce mature concepts to the youth in this program through something they all love, biking. It has brought them together to work as a team, to express their thoughts and ideas and come up with plans and just planning the event itself.

Several of them have been invited to speak at the conference. They will create a presentation, get up in front of a crowd, share their thoughts and answer questions. They will meet other inspired minds and share ideas and work together to change the future of cycling and possibility their communities.

This experience is more than encouraging youth to take an active, vocal role in their cycling futures, it's about maturing and growing into themselves. It's about figuring out that their opinions matter. It's also about learning how to effectively express themselves and make change happen. It's learning to come together and work together for a common goal; something we all could use a little more of in our lives.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Linda Hansen

Linda Hansen and Jackie Colonna in 2013
"I first met Linda Hansen maybe seven years ago when I first started working with Bikes for the World. That was four offices and six warehouses ago. I guess maybe we've both been around for a while," remembers Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess.

BUT, Linda predates BfW staff by just as many years. In fact she predates Bikes for the World itself! Linda and Keith started working together in 1997 back when we were working with Pedals for Progress.

She and Muriel Grim got together and started brain storming on their first ever bike collection with St Mary of Sorrows and its community. That was maybe 2,000 bikes ago.

For Linda, it didn't make sense to keep this tucked away within the pews of St. Mary's. It takes a village and she intended to reach out across parishes to recruit the village. Throughout the years they brought together Burke Presbyterian, Accotink Unitarian Universalist, Lord of Life Lutheran, and St. George's Methodist to work on this common vision. Her mission was simple: people helping people.

Linda also recruited other collection managers to take over for her after her initial efforts. And when I say initial, I'm talking half a decade or more as collection manager. This is one of the critical parts of keeping a successful collection going. Not only recruiting dedicated volunteers but also moving them into the management position. Not passing the torch successfully has been the undoing for several of our long standing collections that have been with us since the beginning. Finding someone to take over as collection manager is key to keeping a collection point alive.

And Linda made that transition seamless. This doesn't mean she moved on, she is still very much involved in this annual collection at St Mary's; she just prefers to hang in the shadows. And here we are shining a spotlight on her!

"But going back to when I first met Linda...I had just come on as Office Manager and Linda needed something from us. She said, I'll be right over. And when I came out to meet her she instantly grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. That's just who she is. And no doubt, that's why she's been able to keep that amazing cast of characters around the collection all these years."

Over the years St Mary's remained a consistent supporter of Bikes for the World, both in bike donations and financially. Their support has allowed us to affect thousands of lives around the world. Linda tells us it's really a win-win relationship; nobody really capitalizes it's just true giving and sharing.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Story Riders

Meet Fairfax County's talented crew known around Willston Community Center as the Story Riders. This exciting pilot program has participants pushing pedals and pens. They are learning about bikes, the community, writing, and yes, even alliteration.

In an age when adults joke about cursive being a sort of secret coded language today's kids could never decipher, this unique program focused on writing is a breath of fresh air to parents. Just getting a child out of a computer game or device is a welcomed respite to many moms and dads.

Willston sits in the heart of the community is serves. The kids in the program all know each other, often from the neighborhood, occasionally because they are somehow related. Many of them are from El Salvador and all of them call English a second or even third language.

This is a tight knit community with moms, dads, even abuelas who are very active in what's going on at Willston. When they found out about this new program called Story Riders it wasn't long before the slots filled up.

Story Riders combines bikes, community and literary skills into one interlacing program. Through interactions with local bike groups such as Bikes for the World, Phoenix Bikes, and Bikenetic, the kids are learning about bikes, team work, community awareness, and writing and interviewing skills.

Many ESL students often struggle to fully grasp the idiosyncrasies in the English language. Many kids in general struggle with communication whether that be oral or print. Story Riders tackles all of that in one stroke, okay two; one stroke of the pen and the other a pedal stroke.

Through a combined effort with our partnership with Bikenetic bike shop of Falls Church, Bikes for the World has donated some of our bikes to Story Riders. "It's always exciting to find a program where we can donate bikes locally and in this case many of them are donated in Falls Church and will stay right here in Falls Church," says Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess of BfW.

"Another thing that is totally awesome about this program is the academic aspect of what they are doing. They are taking something fun like bikes and applying it to learning about vocabulary, confidence, interacting with adults, note taking, and engaging and expressing their ideas. Some of those things are pretty boring by themselves or even challenging, like approaching an adult and asking questions. Tying all of it together with something tangible in their community, like bikes and groups like Phoenix and BfW, makes it not even seem like learning."

Yvette visited Willston this week and introduced Bikes for the World. But the kids already knew a lot about what we do because they had researched the website. They came prepared with questions, like why did Keith Oberg start BfW and how do the bikes travel overseas. They asked thoughtful, prepared questions, ones that weren't just yes and no answers. They listened and took notes.

Now the kids are working together in teams to come up with a story about BfW from the notes they took during the interview session with Yvette. At the end of the program they will put together all of their stories from all the groups who visit (like Phoenix and Bikenetic) to publish a book.

Oh yeah, and what about the bikes? Well, they are learning a lot there too. Each Story Rider receives a bike and will learn how to ride. They take a little time each week perfecting their riding skills (along with their writing skills) and learn about bike safety. Thanks to Phoenix Bikes, the kids will attend the National Youth Summit here in Arlington in October where they will learn more about how to become strong cycling advocates.

Staying physically active promotes learning and gets those creative juices flowing. And the bikes are a motivational tool to not only get the students engaged weekly, but to stay commitment in the project. At the end of program the participants will not only have a great written record of their experience but they will all get to keep their bikes as well. And hopefully they will all keep riding...and writing!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What a Trek!

This blue Trek has had a long and happy life. This bike belonged to Wendy and she learned how to jump logs, scream through streams, and even how to fall not-so-gracefully on many a mountain trail. It's been to the hills of West Virginia, the beaches of Cape Cod, even across the ferry and into the city streets of Boston.

After upgrading her ride with a better mountain bike we converted this one for a more urban experience and kept it going for our jaunts into DC. After time we bought a hybrid and this trusty Trek hung unused in the shed for many years. After learning of a shipment heading to students in the Philippines Wendy finally found the courage to say goodbye to a very good friend of many years, "It just made sense; this bike was still in great shape, it's why I held on to it. But I wasn't using it anymore and I saw the benefit it could bring someone overseas."

And so the Trek journeys on. Within months, Wendy's old bike found a new home in a very different environment.

This Trek now belongs to Danilo, a junior at Concepcion Integrated School in San Simon, Pampanga Philippines. Rather than taking up space in our shed it is now improving Danilo's life allowing him to stay in school, get an education, and follow his dreams of becoming a police officer.

Danilo is the son of a vegetable farmer and housewife. He wants to become a policeman so that he can aid and protect his community. He realizes the value of an education but struggles to help support his family while staying in school due to the long commute.

Wendy's old bike will enable him to travel to school more efficiently, saving him time and energy. Many kids his age are forced to drop out of school when the family is faced with the choice of sending a teen to school or putting him to work in the fields. With this bike, Danilo will be able to save time on his commute to school AND still help his father out in the fields.

Before becoming a bike beneficiary, Danilo used to walk to school with his younger brother. The trip took Danilo 90 minutes on foot but now he can roll to school in a quarter of the time.

Every morning before school, Danilo heads to the cabbage fields his father tends and helps water the crops. Given the extreme heat in the Philippines, Danilo has to return to the fields immediately after school to water the crops again. The money he earns is shared with his family to help with expenses.

Now, with his bike, Danilo can make the trips to school and the fields much faster, giving him more time to devote to school, work, and after a long busy day, some much needed rest.

But given his desire to serve and protect...Danilo doesn't stop there. With the hours saved every day Danilo not only helps his family, but also the bike beneficiaries enrolled in the program. Danilo enjoys leading the community rides aimed at improving riding skills and teaching road safety to all the beneficiaries.

His leadership qualities shine through during these training rides and throughout the repair workshops at the school. He also stepped up to help build the bike room at the school. His bike coordinator reports that Danilo was always ready to do whatever job was needed whether that was mixing cement or laying the bricks for the walls. He is a very active volunteer in the program and always met everyone with a smile on his face.

"I am so happy that Danilo can use my old bike to stay in school. It is admirable that he wants to give back to his community by becoming a police officer. I'm also impressed how much he gives back to this program and the students who receive the bikes we donate. It makes so much more sense to give our old bikes a new home especially when we aren't using them anymore. Enjoy the ride Danilo!" Wendy, previous Trek owner, generous Trek donor said. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Lucas Kramer

These kids above are some of our Filipino beneficiaries from Batangas Talahib Pandayan National High School and they are personally saying thank you to our Featured Volunteer of the month Lucas Kramer. So who the heck is Lucas and what makes him so special?

I actually know Lucas's parents from way back, but I only just met Lucas at the Alternative Gift Fair in Takoma Park a few years ago. He was there to make a donation to Bikes for the World and several other organizations. We actually see him every year when he donates part of his allowance to help kids in the Philippines get bikes and tubes. And well we think that's pretty darn cool. And so did they. And they wanted to share their gratitude.

Last year Bikes for the World had to sit the Alternative Gift Fair out to give other non-profits a chance so we didn't see Lucas there. But lucky us, he needed a few volunteer hours for school and he turned up in our warehouse just last month! Not only was this kid smashing open his piggy bank to support us, but he also wanted to put a little muscle into it.

When his mom challenged him to consider donating some of his allowance during his volunteer visit he didn't hesitate to open up his charity jar and dump out the contents, entirely! "As a parent, what I love is how proud he was to bring you that envelope of money. He's beginning to connect the dots of giving wealth AND time to causes he believes in," reported Karla.

And that he did. The whole family rolled up their sleeves and grabbed wrenches to help us prep some bikes to ship overseas. And we told the kids in the Philippines about that too and again they were like, WOW! that guy's younger than us and he's in there helping us get bikes?! They made a video and sent that our way to share with Lucas.

Dave said, "that left the kid speechless, introspective and then super-motivated to volunteer again!" And after Lucas saw the video he was all smiles, "I feel like such a good person right now."

The cool thing about our volunteer opportunities is that they are great for families. It's a fun activity that gives back and truly makes a difference around the world. For the Kramers it was a good team effort that allowed Lucas to fully participate despite some physical limitations. Like many kids that come through our warehouse he struggled with the occasional rusty pedal which his mom was able to help torque off in a pinch.

Lucas is your typical pre-teen boy. He loves playing video games and building things with Legos. His favorite classes in school are art, lunch and PE. He's crazy about dogs. He loves to eat, Thai, 100%. He likes the beach, loves to swim, and enjoys riding motorcycle with his dad.

But Lucas never learned how to ride a bike, it's a small regret his mom shared with us. He likes being out on the bike with them but they worried about the hills and torque necessary to pedal a bike through an obstacle. You see unlike other kids who come through our warehouse Lucas truly does have a bigger challenge on those rusty parts that require a little more muscle than others; Lucas has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Because September is Duchenne Awareness Month we wanted to bring you Lucas's whole story. In our warehouse we will be showing our muscle in support of Lucas and we are asking you to do the same. September 7th is World Duchenne Awareness Day and we are asking you to support Lucas by becoming more aware of his disease.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy affects 1 in every 3,500 live male births which accumulates to about 20,000 new cases each year world wide. Duchenne results in progressive loss of strength and is caused by a mutation in the gene that encodes for dystrophin. In layman’s terms, because dystrophin is absent, muscle cells are easily damaged. This slowly happens which can lead to medical problems that eventually affect the heart and lungs. Although Duchenne can be passed from parent to child, approximately 35% of cases occur because of a random spontaneous mutation. In other words, it can affect anyone. There is no cure for Duchenne.

What does this mean for Lucas? We ask you to watch the video below to learn more about this disease. Basically, due to the lack of production of a specific protein called dystrophin, he does not build normal muscle. Weight bearing physical activities and going up & down stairs causes scar tissue to build up in his muscles, most notable in his thick calves. He can do permanent irreversible damage by doing anything that is weight bearing.

Back to that original question of this post...who the heck is Lucas and what makes him so special? Well, as I stated earlier I am biased, so you can judge that for yourself. But if you've ever seen his electric smile, been on the opposing end of his quick wit, or exchanged commentary on whether dinner was spicy enough...I suspect you already know the answer to that question!