Ellen Jacobson volunteers, with her husband, at the Kiwanis Bike Program. The program provides at-risk children with bikes and teaches them bike safety. Volunteers can also learn to fix or improve their own bicycles or work toward earning a donated bike to fix up for themselves.
What is the goal of the Kiwanis bike program?
We have two missions. One is primarily teaching kids about bike safety and keeping their bike safe to ride. Second is fixing up bikes for at-risk kids in the community, and those two things go hand in hand. It’s about sharing in something we’re excited about, which is bike repair.
How did you get involved with it?
Well, it was my husband who got me involved. He was in it for five or 10 years before I joined, and he needed help. It was a fun thing to do together. This was going to be a one-day-a-week thing. Well, this has been a very interesting ride because this non-profit has just exploded!
What’s the history?
This program was started 25 years ago and we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fire departments working with us to collect bikes this summer. We started growing about seven years ago and expanding because we wanted to teach bike riding, too.
We have Kiwanis members who are up here whenever we are open [Tuesday 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.]. We also have—I’d call them friends of Kiwanis—who are teens and college kids who come in to volunteer for a service project for school or just want to come in and learn more about bikes and help us with fixing them. You can come up just because you want to learn. You can come up because you want to earn a bike. You can come up here and learn how to fix a bike and in the process earn one for yourself. You can come up here and learn how to fix your own bike, and we’ll help you learn. We also have a wonderful pick-and-pull, so if you need a part that you can’t find, especially for older bikes, we have lots of everything.
As a non-profit organization, how do you keep the doors open?
We are a service organization, we give away about 80 percent of the bikes we repair, we sell about 20 percent, primarily to college kids and high school kids. One hundred percent of the 20 percent that we sell goes back into the bike repair programs and the education program. The funds we raise from the bikes helps support our overall service programs, too. Burning Man is one of our biggest fundraisers. We sell bikes to people from over 20 countries.
How are bikes distributed to kids in need?
We distribute them through school, through any social services organizations that work with kids—Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Anyone who has a need for a bike for a kid is eligible to receive bikes on a first come/first service basis. Anyone can email us at kiwanisbikes.org if they are interested in that.
Goals for the future of this program?
We do not pay any of our volunteers. We dream someday that we could be open every day and be able to pay somebody, but we’re not there yet. We want to make sure we are only open as much as we can support.