Volunteers put donated bicycles back in action
Father and son team Steve (left) and John Long work on donated bicycles that will be redistributed to Bexley residents through DARN, a non-profit organization that works to meet the needs of the community’s children and families through the allocation of community resources. John Long, a fourth-grader at Montrose Elementary School, said he has learned everything he knows about fixing bikes from his dad.
For the past four years, local resident Ken Grace has been helping to fix bicycles of all shapes and sizes in order to match them up with those who don't have one.
As word has spread about the project, it has grown by leaps and bounds. Over the past two years, the number of donated bikes has doubled.
Around 40 bikes are expected by the project's end this year, a far cry from the five sets of wheels the program received upon its inception nearly a decade ago.
Most of the bikes that land in Grace's garage are in need of repair. Some merely require a new tire, while others need a bit more work -- such as a new seat, chain or brake adjustment.
Thanks to the help of several students and two of their dads this year, the bikes are being refurbished to nearly new condition, bringing smiles galore to those who get to ride them.
"Most kids know nothing about fixing bikes," Grace said.
"But that's the great thing about this program. The bikes are already broken," he said with a chuckle. "There's no pressure."
The project is sponsored by the Developmental Assets Resource Network, a Bexley nonprofit group that works to meet the needs of local children and families through the allocation of community resources. DARN came up with the idea for the bike project in 2004 and relies on community members to help make it happen.
DARN asks for the gently used bikes during Bexley's annual April cleanup event. The bikes arrive in all sizes and conditions.
That's where Grace and his crew of volunteers come in.
"This year, there's been a lot of great teamwork," Grace said.
Bexley High School senior Howard Lang returned for another year of work. Freshman Will Stevens also decided to join the team, along with sophomore Ian Foreman.
For the first time, two father-and-son teams have joined in, lending both hands and expertise to the project.
"Growing up, instead of taking their bikes in to get them fixed, they brought their bikes to me," said Rick Boerkoel, who was working on some donated bikes this past weekend with his 11-year-old son Derick, a fifth-grader at Cassingham Elementary School.
Derick has never worked on bikes before, but is quickly learning. He's already proficient at tightening brakes, taking off pedals and installing tires. He said he rides his own bike quite a bit, which may explain his newfound love for fixing them.
Another father-and-son team, Steve and John Long, were hard at work Saturday adjusting the brakes on a newly donated dirt bike.
"It makes me feel happy to do this because other kids can have a bike now and they can have fun," said 10-year-old John, a fourth-grade student at Montrose Elementary School.
Steve Long, whose day job is already mechanical in nature, is a natural at fixing bikes.
"I want to start teaching (John) how to work on things, and it's nice to give a little time to help somebody else out."
In order to facilitate the endeavor, Grace sets up a makeshift bike garage at his house in South Bexley where the volunteers join him in repairing the bikes. Grace and DARN have provided all the supplies, such as lubricants and tire-patch kits, so the volunteers can put the donated bikes back into working order.
School counselors have helped ensure the bikes reach the right students and facilitated the handoff. With funds raised throughout the year, DARN furnishes helmets and bike locks for the new owners, setting each up with a bicycle license from the Bexley Police Department.
"I have met so many wonderful people, and they are always so grateful and excited," Grace said of the bike project.
"It really melts my heart."