Bikes for the World

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!