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NW Tucson Explorer newspaper article
Jan. 12, 2022

  • Jeff Gardner, Tucson Local Media

Tucson regularly ranks as one of the best cities in the nation for cycling, but some local children aren’t able to appreciate the joy of a bike. However, one local nonprofit has worked for more than a decade to refurbish and donate bikes to kids in need. Last month, Wheels for Kids celebrated their 4,000th bike donated, and don’t see an end in sight to the deliveries.

“It would be hard to count all the thank yous and hugs we’ve received from kids and nonprofits,” said Tom Terfehr, president of Wheels for Kids. “Often there are tears, and sometimes there’s even tears from donors who are sad to see their bike go, but happy to make sure it’s going to a good cause.”

Terfehr has volunteered with Wheels for Kids for seven years. As with many of their volunteers, Terfehr became involved when he was looking for ways to give back to the community during retirement. He connected with the nonprofit’s founder, Dick Swain, and learned about bike repair.

“As the saying goes, one thing led to another,” Terfehr said. “I started as a mechanic. Next thing you know, I was picking up bikes, and then I was on the board of directors, and then I was the president… Dick really had a vision, and we still do, and that’s to put a smile on the face of a kid who might otherwise never experience the joy of riding a bike.”

Wheels for Kids’ process begins with donors offering bikes to the nonprofit. The bikes range from nearly new to well-worn, and come from anywhere between SaddleBrooke and Green Valley. Wheels for Kids’ pickup team collects the bikes and stores them on a property offered by Sun City. Then, the nonprofit’s 25 mechanics work out of their garages to refurbish the bikes.

“We have a 20-foot container that is filled with bike parts and components. Everything from tubes to tires to spokes to rims to handlebars. And that inventory will rival any bike shop,” Terfehr said. “Our objective is to have that bike looking better than when it left the factory when we donate it to a kid.”

The refurbishing always ends with a fresh coat of wax for an extra shine. Then, the Wheels for Kids outreach team (led by Tom’s wife, Lisa) works with more than 30 local nonprofits to find the right home for the bike. Wheels for Kids has donated bikes to Aviva Family and Children’s Services, Casa de los Niños, Boys & Girls Club, Refugee and Immigration Services and more. In total, Wheels for Kids has a network of roughly 40 volunteers, most of whom are also members of the Vistoso Cyclists.

“We consider ourselves to be in the recycling business as well as the business of giving bikes to kids,” Terfehr said.

Terfehr estimates the nonprofit spends roughly $15,000 per year on parts. They also give away a helmet and lock with each bike, to promote safety for the kids.

“The children are absolutely thrilled to receive a ‘new’ bike,” said Grace Stocksdale, executive director of the nonprofit More Than a Bed, which receives dozens of bikes annually. “Every bike that we get from Wheels is absolutely great quality, looks like a new bike. Some are vintage, some are dirt bikes, and some appear to be racing bikes, just in beautiful condition.”

More Than a Bed provides essential items to foster, kinship and adoptive families. Since 2014, More Than a Bed has helped more than 2,000 foster children receive necessary items in their goal of giving every child a safe place to call home.

“Wheels has been such a blessing to [More Than a Bed] and the children we serve,” Stocksdale said. “Nothing but praises and gratitude for the organization.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson has also received dozens of bikes from Wheels for Kids, which are then distributed between all six of their area clubhouses.

“It’s always super exciting when the kids get their bikes,” said Melissa Hanson Royer, director of marketing and communications for Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. “Sometimes it will be during special times of the year, like during the holidays… Some of them may have had a bike that was too small for them, so it’s always nice to see them with a new bike that actually fits them. Some of the kids even learn how to ride bikes and about bike safety thanks to the donations.”

In addition to celebrating their 4,000th bike, Wheels for Kids is also using the milestone as a thank you to the hard work and dedication of their volunteers.

Terfehr even recalls some creative ways volunteers continued to help during the pandemic. In one instance, a senior citizen at a retirement community wanted to help but wasn’t able to interact with visitors. To circumvent this, Terfehr says they organized a “clandestine” drop-off and pick-up process where the volunteer was still able to repair the bikes without getting too close to others.

“The point being, that’s the kind of dedication our mechanics and volunteers have. They’re all retirees who can do any number of things, and they choose to do this. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the community,” Terfehr said. “It’s wonderful to donate 4,000 bikes. That’s 4,000 smiles that weren’t there before.

NW Tucson Explorer newspaper article – April 11, 2017

Wheeling in smiles, one bike at a time

Logan Burtch-Buus, The Explorer | Updated Yesterday (4/12/17)

Several weeks ago Tucson resident Rosanna Velasco returned to her temporary home at the Gospel Rescue Mission to find her three-year-old son, Zack, astride a bright green bicycle, wearing a blue helmet emblazoned with flames and a smile spreading from ear to ear. Quite surprised to find her son on a new bike, Velasco said she was even more surprised to hear the bike now belonged to her son, thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers from Oro Valley.

Founded 10 years ago by Sun City Oro Valley resident Dick Swain, WFK collects donations of new and used bicycles and refurbishes (or tunes up) the equipment for use by underprivileged children and their families, refugees, and others within the greater Tucson community. An all-volunteer staff, WFK partners with community and service organizations to locate those in-need of a memorable gift.

“The tagline exemplifies how I feel about it, and how we all still feel about it,” Swain said. “Everyone remembers their first bike.” Swain said the group got its start as a spinoff of two other organizations within the Sun City community, Seniors For Kids, which comprises of men and women making toys and crafts and collecting supplies for families in-need, and the local cycling club. As a member of both organizations, Swain said he one day realized the potential of his two hobbies, and began talking with his fellow cyclists. After 10 individuals volunteered, the organization got off the ground by using the philanthropic connections of its fore groups.

It didn’t take long to get the ball—or in this case the tire—rolling. Wheels For Kids has grown since 2007, now staffed by a team of roughly 40 volunteers, and recently celebrated a significant milestone when it donated its 2,000th bike to Zack.

“He loves bikes,” Velasco said of her son. “He was just really happy; he was showing it off, had his picture taken because he is very proud of it, and he loves his helmet as well.”

Velasco said her son has developed quite a fascination with bicycles and motorcycles despite his young age; his father, grandparents and uncle are all avid motorcycle-riders, and Zack had previously been riding around on a plastic tricycle – or what he referred to as his motorcycle.

“It means a lot to me and my son,” she said. “Being in recovery and in a place like this, it shows that there are still really good people out there and God has blessed us. They are a blessing, giving back to us.”

For WFK president Tom Terfehr, who said he joined the group as a mechanic, the small moments shared with families like the Velascos are what make the time behind the wrench worth it.

“It seemed to me, and I think this is true for a number of mechanics, that it is a great way to use your skills for a good cause,” he said. “I always imagine that when I am working on a bike, that this is going to someone’s grandkid. It could be going to mine, and that’s really what motivates me. It’s partly just giving something back to someone who might otherwise not ever have a chance to ride a bike.”

Whether sitting on 12-inch wheels or 700C adult tires, WFK mechanic Ernie Fisher said the process of rehabbing donations (or tuning up new bikes) all depends on the quality of product donated to the group. Once a bike is received, Fisher said a mechanic assesses its individual needs, disassembles it and begins an extensive cleaning process. Anything that cannot be tuned back into full use is replaced, and the end result is a shining bike that looks like it just rolled off the line.

Though youth like Zack don’t yet comprehend the amount of team effort and labor it took to retool his bike, Velasco said she will use the experience as an opportunity to impart future life lessons upon her son: teamwork, the importance of charity and the value of possessions, to name a few.

Already past its 2,000th donation, Swain and Terfehr said WFK only has room to grow, and will continue its mission of providing less fortunate members of their community with their first bikes. More information on the group and how to get involved can be found at www.azwfk.org.

WFK Editor’s note: Dick Swain’s name was misspelled in the original article. It is correct in this reprint.

Arizona Daily Star article – Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Sun City Oro Valley volunteer group has donated its 2,000th refurbished bicycle to local youths and adults in need.

Wheels For Kids, which was founded in 2007 by Dick Swain, collects used bikes and overhauls them, makes sure they operate correctly and are safe, and then donates them to deserving children, teens and adults in Tucson.

The group began with 10 volunteers and now has 40 volunteers helping the effort.

Recently, the nonprofit donated its 2,000th bicycle to a boy at the Gospel Rescue Mission.

The group has donated bicycles to organizations such as Youth on their Own, Casa de los Niños, Tucson Boys’ and Girls’ Club and GAP Ministries.

For more information about the group, go to www.azwfk.org