Free Wheel­ing do­nates 14 bikes to lo­cal youth

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Mc­cully

In the two years since the Free Wheel­ing (Pleins Rayons) pro­gram started in Cowansville, 465 re­fur­bished bi­cy­cles have been do­nated to lo­cal schools and com­mu­nity groups.

The non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, with the motto ‘chang­ing lives, one bike at a time,’ pro­motes so­cial in­clu­sion and in­te­gra­tion for young adults be­tween the ages of 15 and 35 years liv­ing with an autism spec­trum dis­or­der, an in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity, or at risk stu­dents at the

high school and el­e­men­tary lev­els by teach­ing the par­tic­i­pants bike me­chan­ics. The newly trained tech­ni­cians then do­nate the bi­cy­cles they have re­paired to schools for fit­ness pro­grams, or to fam­i­lies in need as gifts.

The most re­cent do­na­tion was a load of 14 bi­cy­cles of var­i­ous sizes, given to the com­mu­nity pe­di­atric so­cial cen­tre, Main dans la Main, in Cowansville.

“We’re very happy,” said Main dans la Main founder Ys­abelle Proulx, watch­ing youth from the cen­tre ar­rive to see their new bikes.

“Com­mu­nity is very im­por­tant. It takes a vil­lage to raise a kid, that’s our phi­los­o­phy,” Proulx said, thank­ful for the col­lab­o­ra­tion with Free Wheel­ing. “They will be given di­rectly to the kids,” Proulx said. The ma­jor­ity had al­ready been ear­marked for spe­cific chil­dren who fre­quent the cen­tre, and the oth­ers will no doubt be snatched up quickly.

Ac­cord­ing to Free Wheel­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Stephan Mar­coux, the part­ner­ship with Main dans la Main made per­fect sense.

“There are a lot of kids in need in Brome-mis­sisquoi,” Mar­coux said, adding it is part of the Free Wheel­ing mis­sion to make sure that all kids who would like a bike can have one.

“Not every­one can af­ford it,” Mar­coux com­mented.

“It’s such a fun sport,” he added, point­ing out the he is an avid cy­clist him­self. “It’s so free­ing.”

The idea be­hind Free Wheel­ing started when lo­cal phi­lan­thropist Michael Her­man ac­quired a mas­sive load of high-tech bi­cy­cle parts fol­low­ing the clo­sure of an area fac­tory. He then re­cov­ered used and un­wanted bi­cy­cles from cit­i­zens and eco-cen­tres, had them re­stored and then re­turned them, free of charge, to the com­mu­nity through lo­cal schools.

Her­man then joined forces with Mar­coux, who is a recre­ational ther­a­pist in ad­di­tion to be­ing a pro­fes­sional cy­clist. A board of di­rec­tors was later formed with other spe­cial­ists and com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers.

Free Wheel­ing was been in op­er­a­tion since Fe­bru­ary 7, 2016.

While the re­fur­bished bike busi­ness is boom­ing, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has other pro­grams avail­able, in­clud­ing a snack bar where par­tic­i­pants can learn cus­tomer ser­vices skills, how to do in­ven­tory and how to op­er­ate a cash reg­is­ter.

Free Wheel­ing is also in the bird­house busi­ness, Mar­coux said.

“The bird houses started last year,” he com­mented.

Mar­coux said the team set their sights on mak­ing 600 bird­houses. Over 200 have been sold al­ready and have been set up in 13 dif­fer­ent vine­yards, farms and or­chards in the area. There are around 260 left to build, Mar­coux said, adding that the goal is to in­stall them in the spring to at­tract in­sec­tiv­o­rous birds like big swal­lows and the east­ern blue­bird to agri­cul­tural re­gions.

Ben, one of the bike tech­ni­cians from Free Wheel­ing who ac­com­pa­nied Mar­coux to drop off the bi­cy­cles yes­ter­day at Main dans la main, said the most chal­leng­ing as­pect of the bike re­fur­bish­ing process is get­ting the brakes right.

“It’s pretty pre­cise, they have to be re­ally well aligned,” he said.

The bikes they re­ceive come in a va­ri­ety of states, he added. “Some are so rusted. Some, there is just the frame,” he said, “but some­how we make it work.”

It took about a week of train­ing be­fore Ben felt con­fi­dent work­ing on the bi­cy­cles. “You pick it up quickly with a lit­tle prac­tice,” he com­mented. “It’s given me a new per­spec­tive on other me­chan­ics,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben, the Free Wheel­ing par­tic­i­pants take turns so that every­one gets a chance to do the bi­cy­cle de­liv­er­ies, a real high­light.

“I feel flat­tered. I’m re­ally happy to be able to give bikes to kids who will en­joy them,” he said.

Free Wheel­ing is al­ways on the hunt for bikes to re­fur­bish.there are also bird­houses for sale for a mod­est $15.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the or­ga­ni­za­tion, visit the Free Wheel­ing web­site at http://plein­srayons.ca.

MATTHEW MC­CULLY

Free Wheel­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Stephan Mar­coux and a few of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s bike tech­ni­cians drop­ping off 14 re­fur­bished bi­cy­cles to the Main dans la Main com­mu­nity pe­di­atric cen­tre in Cowansville. The new young bike own­ers seen here were itch­ing to get out­side and go for a spin.

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