Free Wheeling donates 14 bikes to local youth
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.
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.