Very often, non-profit organizations find success because of unlikely partnerships. Youth en Route’s work with the Great Forest Lawn Senior’s Center is one of those special alliances.
Together, we are celebrating a huge milestone this month– delivering our 200th bike. Merv Graham, who organizes the crew, called the Bike Shed, reached out to Youth en Route after seeing a news item on our refurbished bike rack on CTV news back in March.
“Do we have any need for fixed-up bikes,” he asked, explaining that since the start of the pandemic, his group had found it harder to give away the bikes they refurbished. That’s how it all began.
Pipeline created from shop to schools
Graham and a group of bike-riding friends had created a bike workshop at a community centre in Northwest Calgary, but had lost that space when the centre closed. Graham reached out the Greater Forest Lawn 55+ Center in hopes of finding a new home.
They moved some wood and created a space for the Bike Shed in the basement. Then our partnership started and things really took off. We already knew that schools wanted to provide cycling opportunities in classes – and we’d worked with Bike Calgary and Two Wheel View to get some used bikes fixed up and delivered to Lester Pearson. We’d even provided a C-Can, on loan from the C-Can Store to store them in.
But we were paying to have bikes fixed up. Getting volunteer mechanics, and a system and space, changed the game for us.
The Bike Shed received permission to salvage from the city of Calgary Landfills. CTV did another story, and bike donations started coming in, too. So many that we had to create a drop off arrangement with Bathttub Bikes.
Without storage, delivery was key
Our first priority was to finish the fleet at Lester Pearson High School. Once the Bike Shed seniors finished four or five bikes, Laura from Youth en Route, or volunteers, would show up and move the bikes to the school.
Next priority, was Bishop O’Byrne’s Leadership program, and then Forest Lawn High School’s fleet. A class fleet is 40 bikes – that allows some spares so every student can find wheels that fit. We were able to get helmets from Neuron Canada and the Kiwanis Club of Calgary Chinook.
Reflectors, bells and parts have come from the local bike shops. B&P Cycle have given the seniors special pricing on parts they need. Bow Cycle, Ridley and The Bike Shop have all provided bells, reflectors and other materials.
“I just can’t stress enough how much this work and our partnership has allowed us to move forward with our programs,” says Laura Shutiak, Executive Director of Youth en Route. “The volume of bikes they work on, and the care and attention they bring to their work is just amazing.” Youth en Route surveys show at some schools, 10 per cent of kids say they’ve never ridden a bike. Being able to ride in PE class opens doors and breaks down barriers for youth
Rewards for seniors, too
“Working on bikes, is a way to build camaraderie with others with similar interests,” says Bent Neilson, a senior who is a regular in the bike shop. “It is a bonus knowing these bicycles will help others to achieve the freedom and joy I felt with my first bike.”
Volunteer Glen Bishop reached out after seeing a media report on Youth en Route. He’d recently retired, and was looking for something to do. We helped him with that – probably more than he’d like. He’s working on bikes out of his garage, as well as the shop. And he’s also helped our partners at the Kiwanis Club refurbish bikes for kids.
“I feel very good about repairing previously owned bicycles and getting them out to various groups so youth can experience the fun of cycling in our beautiful city,” says Bishop.
Inventing bike storage solutions, too
When the seniors find bikes that have broken or cracked frames or require too many parts to fix, the seniors strip the working parts and get them to metal recycling.
Now, Youth en Route has taken the connection to the GFL55+ Club even further. We posed a bike storage issue to the volunteers in the carpentry shed – where there are wood working tools and seniors make all kinds of neat things as community projects .
Bill Diprose came up with a unique idea of wooden stands, that could be affixed together and be free-standing, but space-saving storage. It worked perfectly in the C-Can at Pearson. Now the design is being used to build indoor racks in storage rooms at Robert Thirsk, Crescent Heights and Bishop McNally. We’ve been able get a deal on lumber from Timbertown.
As we expand our reach into more schools, we expect to keep delivering refurbished bikes. Our biggest needs are storage space (The seniors are on the hunt for a Sea-Can to provide more storage at the center) and volunteers with trucks or trailers to help us move bikes around. Please reach out if you want to support this work.
The end product? 200 bikes to schools
And we have an amazing story to share – about community, about the joy of bike riding and empowering youth.
And we see many smiling faces – both young and not so young.