By: Emily Jensen
*The names of the kids in this post have been changed for purposes of confidentiality.
On Monday, May 23rd, Bob and I took a trip to Dixon Elementary to do what we love best: working with kids. Kids are the future, and the future is important. Due to time constraints, weather, and a dangerous highway, the decision was made to burn 15 gallons of gas. So, we reluctantly hopped in a car lent to us by a generous volunteer and made the hour drive up North.
It was peculiar being in a car with Bob Giordano. I have spent thousands of hours working in the trenches with him, but this is the first time we had ever rode in what he calls "bike butlers." It wasn't nearly as fun as biking would have been, and we were both in agreement with that. However, he is a safe and attentive driver, so I felt fine and at ease.
This day was one filled with high energy, passion, and bikes of course. Several weeks before, a one of a kind character named Flash contacted us about helping kids in Dixon get bicycles. Flash leads a non-profit organization called Bikers Against Bullies USA , focused on empowering kids to stand up and be heard. They tour schools around Montana, while using their skills and passions with motorcycles to energize the kids and spread their message to prevent bullying.
Flash found out the kids at this school were all on assisted meal plans, 7 days a week, 3 meal days. Over 50% of the kid's parents were incarcerated. So, his crew asked how they could further help. The staff at the school told them it would be life-changing to get these kids all bicycles, giving them a way to get to school, stay healthy, and have more freedom.
This is where Free Cycles comes in!
Spread thin with campaign work and keeping the shop running smoothly, this was something we could not put energy into going out of our way to set-up, but for anyone who came to us with a direct ask it was an immediate yes. So, with the help of Flash, friends, volunteers, and Dixon School District #9 we ended up providing the 49 students at the school with working bicycles to get ready for the summer. Many students got a fresh bike from Free Cycles, some learned to repair their own bikes and still others swapped tuned-up bikes for a better fit.
While the entire school was involved and a pleasure to work with, there are always several kids that stick out because their lives are impacted a bit more by the bicycle on the particular day.
First, there was Josh. Josh was a determined soul. He picked out a bike from the Free Cycles stock that seemed to be a perfect fit for him. A sweet BMX! The handle bars turned independent of the fork however. With Bob's instruction, Josh preceded to spend most of the day getting the bike just right, swapped out the stripped stem bolt and tuned up the brakes. He then began helping several of his classmates get their bikes ready.
Then there was Suzie, reminding me of all the reasons why kids are the most energizing population of people to work with. She was a pure ball of joy, laughing and smiling at the most simple things. She almost lost control just from pumping up her tires. This type of playfulness and giddiness is so contagious, and although these moments are often some of the shortest interactions in contrast to the countless people we serve, they are still the ones I cherish most.
Ah, and I could never forget a boy who Flash nick-named "Action Jackson". This boy will most likely lead the upkeep of the school's new shop. Bob gave him a small box with extra parts: nuts, bolts, screws, etc. He will cater to the rest of the kid's needs as their bikes receive the normal wear and tear from lots of use! Action Jackson was so excited to help and just wanted to keep working on and building bikes that he nearly forgot school was already over by the time we wrapped up.
Our last project was fixing up an old bike that had a velvet banana seat. It nearly needed replacements on all of the parts with the exception of the seat, one wheel, and of course the beautiful frame! The kids were motivated to fix it up for their teacher, as it had been sitting in her yard hidden in the tall grass for nearly the past 20 years. The final touch included some makeshift bending of the fenders, and then we called it a day and cleaned up.
After saying goodbye and thanking everyone, I was tired. We were ready for some food and a hike. Bob and I found a road off the beaten path, went for a walk, recapped and reflected on the day, and to our surprise stumbled upon a section of morel mushrooms.
We are so happy to know that now the Dixon School has their very own space dedicated to fixing bikes with the proper tools. Projects like these are so important to spread across Montana, and their impact is easy to measure from the immense amount of smiles in one day.
For the past 20 years, Free Cycles has facilitated over 160 school outreach events. However, this one sticks out in the sense that it has been more in-depth than the others. The potential to continue these amazing projects is far beyond what our organization even realizes at the moment.