Bikes for Kids Keeps Rolling Along
After It's Founder Died, The Cause To Give Away Bikes For Needy Kids Continues
by Susan Cornell
Where ever there seemed to be a need, Chuck Graeb had bicycles to fill it.
Graeb founded Bikes for Kids, a charity which rebuilds and refurbishes bicycles to donate to those less fortunate. By the time he passed away a year and a half ago, he'd given away more than 12,000 bicycles over his two-decade crusade.
"Chuck was always of the belief that every kid should have a bicycle. Upon his retirement, he dedicated a good portion of those years to providing disadvantaged kids with a bicycle," explains Dave Fowler, who is following in Graeb's tire tracks by running the organization.
"He started to take in gently used bicycles and had some fellows who would help repair them. He would turn them around and give them to kids everywhere who needed a bike. He would do this on an individual basis and on a larger group basis," Fowler said.
Both Graeb and Fowler were teachers in Old Lyme before retirement.
Years ago, even Fowler benefited from the Bikes for Kids charity.
He admitted, "He bailed me out on a couple of occasions when I taught in Old Lyme. We had a bicycle club and a couple of middle school kids wanted to ride after school but didn't have a bike."
"We set up the kids with bicycles and helmets, and they turned out to be some of our most regular riders over the years," Fowler shared.
There have been numerous success stories in the 21 years that Graeb operated Bikes for Kids. Last year, a small group decided "it would be worthwhile thing to keep it going in the vein that he would have chosen," he said.
In 2010, 646 bikes were given away, and they're just about on track to do the same this year.
Donations of bicycles and accessories are key. Bikes for Kids, of course, also depends on monetary donations.
"Many will send a check over the course of the year. We put it into repair parts. Once in a while we buy new bicycles for special occasions. And helmets," Fowler said.
Bicycles are also dropped off at his home in Ivoryton.
"We are very grateful for any gently used bicycles that people no longer have a need for. We'll turn them around and get them ready. We'll inspect them, and adjust brakes and derailers. We might change tires and make them look a little nicer. We might touch up the paint a little bit to make it as special as we can in the time that we've got. It makes it special for some little person to have a bicycle," he said.
The charity touches a wide range of needs.
For example, Bikes for Kids sent 40 bikes to Connecticut College last year.
Fowler explained, "They wanted to do a green initiative. With that and the fact that they are not going to allow freshmen to have cars next year, they wanted to have bikes available for getting around campus and New London. We gave them 40 bikes and they were as happy as clams."
Bikes for Kids recently received a call from the Red Cross in Old Saybrook regarding a young man in their office, 19 years old, who had just aged out of the foster program in the state and was homeless.
"Nineteen years old and homeless is really tough," said Fowler.
"The scooter he had been riding, depending on, had just been run over by a car at a gas station. His main concern was how he was going to get from Saybrook to the Essex Baptist Church that night for the soup kitchen," he said.
The Red Cross called and asked if there was something Bikes for Kids could do. Within an hour and a half they had set him up with an almost brand new bike, a backpack, a helmet, a red light for the night, a tube and tools.
"We filled up the backpack pretty well in the time that we had and he was able to get back on the road again," Fowler said.
Bikes for Kids just replaced all of the bicycles stolen from a shelter for battered women in Willimantic.
Fowler does the work with volunteers but is always looking for more "who like to crank some nuts and bolts once in a while," he said.
Every little bit helps.
When people clean out their basements and garages this spring, Fowler hopes they won't take found bicycles to the dump. Instead, Bikes For Kids has a place for them.
The organization is also looking for those who would like to do community service with activities such as drives for bikes and accessories. Most recently, Hayley Sisk, a senior at Morgan High School, organized a successful bike collection at the Congregational Church.
"We've got a lot of types of things that people can easily do if they want to help out," Fowler said.