Short version: To put a smile on the faces of kids who thought they’d never get to experience the joy of riding their own bike.
And a more detailed version, for those who need it: To collect used bikes, completely overhaul them, ensure they work well, look good and are safe to operate – and then, through our partner charitable organizations, give them to low income, distressed, or underprivileged kids, teens and adults in greater Tucson.
We happened upon the following video of a father helping his young daughter learn to ride without training wheels awhile ago. We don’t know them personally (she’s not riding one of our bikes), but we wanted to share this with you, anyway. It’s a truly wonderful illustration of that child on a bike experience.
The little girl’s smile when she realizes she’s been riding all on her own for the very first time pretty much explains why we work so hard to make Wheels For Kids succeed.
Back in 2007, Sun City Oro Valley (SCOV) resident Dick Swain was an active member of Seniors For Kids, an organization that, among other things, makes toys for disadvantaged children in the Tucson area. Two of Dick’s passions happened to be (and still are) airplanes and bikes, so it’s probably not all that surprising that on one particular day he was busy working on a wooden toy version of a P-51 Mustang when his mind wandered off, first to bikes and then to a story he’d read in a magazine years earlier. That story just so happened to be about a man who’d taken to fixing up old bikes and giving them away for free to kids living in his corner of the world.
It’s one of life’s mysteries how one can carry around an idea like that for years and then one day it suddenly sprouts wings and starts flapping about. It’s unlikely, therefore, that we’ll ever really figure out why it was at that particular moment—there at a workbench, amidst sawdust, sandpaper and parts to an airplane named after a horse—that the idea for Wheels For Kids suddenly shouted “Giddy-up!,” lifted off and started pedaling. Life is just peculiar like that sometimes.
Things were less mysterious going forward, though. For example, Dick was pretty clear from the start that he didn’t want to do this by himself. If the idea was to get more kids on bikes (and that’s exactly what the idea was) then that meant lots of bikes—way more than he wanted to fix up on his own—and, that in turn meant spending a lot of time getting all those bikes to fix up. It also meant there had to be somewhere to put them (and the parts that would be needed), not to mention more than a few people trained to refurbish bikes. And then there was the whole issue of how one finds new owners for these refurbished bikes.
In short, it was logistics and start-up costs as far as the eye could see. But this is where Dick’s involvement with various SCOV organizations helped — a lot. Among his friends and fellow cyclists in Vistoso Cyclists he found a great deal of help, including his mechanics. He pitched the idea to about 20 of them at a mid-ride breakfast meeting and got more than 10 volunteers on the spot. And from Seniors For Kids he found support and more than a little know how when it came to finding local charities through which to distribute the bikes. He also found a significant amount of help with those start-up costs through the SCOV Foundation, the SCOV Community Assistance Center, and the Vistoso Tennis Club.
In 2013 it became incorporated under its own name as a 5.01(c)(3) nonprofit. Most recently it has, again with volunteer help, set up its own website and begun to reach out to people and support organizations in the greater Tucson area. Since 2007, Wheels For Kids has collected, refurbished, and distributed over 3,700 bikes.
As we’ve said elsewhere, we don’t think of all the bikes we’ve given away so far as simply “a lot of bikes” — we think of it as “a lot of happy people’. We believe cycling is a great thing for everyone. It’s great fun and great exercise. It is an activity that not only builds a sense of community, but fosters those values that make communities great.
With your help, we’re just getting started.
Dick Swain, founder of Arizona’s Wheels For Kids, shortly after being honored as a Ben’s Bell recipient in May of 2012. — Photo by Don Piele