From Old Saybrook - bikes head to Long Island for kids affected by superstorm Sandy
by L.E. Agnelli
MEET DAVE FOWLER, PRESIDENT OF BIKES FOR KIDS: tall, gray-haired, bespectacled and kind of geeky-respectable.
You’d expect that from a retired middle school science teacher, especially one who used to run a bike club in his school, Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School. As a lifelong educator, Fowler loved being around kids and helping them.
But a special mission came up in the wake of superstorm Sandy, many weeks later. On a clear, chilly December morning, Fowler and half a dozen cheerful volunteers load up three pickup trucks and a box truck to form a caravan to Long Island. The bikes are all sizes, shapes, colors, and makes - most of them look brand spanking new.
“Today, we’re delivering 106 bikes to Belle Harbor and Breezy Point, Long Island, to distribute among the kids who’ve lost just about everything. Some of these kids don’t even have a house to go back to and a lot of these areas aren’t even expected to get electricity back until some time in 2013.“
After retirement a few years ago, Fowler is still into bikes and helping kids: “Well, you know, it’s fun for us. I’ve had a pretty nice lifetime, growing up with my folks and everything, career wise. And I know that there are a lot of kids out there who have not been as fortunate. You know, Carol (my wife) and I like to give back when we can. We’re just happy that we’re able to do this.”
In the mid 1990s, Fowler started out working with Bikes for Kids and founder Chuck Graeb.
“With Chuck, he helped me out with a couple of my school kids to get bikes to ride on after school, with bike club and we got to be friends. We’d kick around ideas over in the coffee shop and I’d help him out, pick up bikes, deliver bikes, things like that.”
Graeb founded the organization, Bikes for Kids, in 1989. He passed away in 2009. Fowler says, “The family asked if we could possibly find a way to carry on -which we did.
“And now we’ve made a couple of little changes. We’ve added a lot of folks who wanted to help in various capacities, and it’s working out really well. We got these trucks loaded here in no time at all.”
Most importantly, Bikes for Kids has been an official nonprofit since March 2012, thanks to help from Madison Attorney Tim Crowley.
Says Fowler, “That means that everybody who does make a donation can take it off their taxes.”
And, Fowler seems excited about the organization’s mission and the growth.
“At Bikes for Kids, we take in gently used bikes from people and our guys here refurbish them. We do safety checks, and we give them to needy kids - with a new helmet. The people (volunteers) find us. People have come out to do some really nice newspaper articles over the years; we’ve had a couple of TV spots here and there. And, everybody likes Bikes for Kids.”
Currently an Ivoryton resident, Fowler’s early days were spent growing up in Old Saybrook, right at the beach.
“I had a bike over at the beach when I was a little kid, I had another one when I had a paper route. It was our mode of transportation. It got me everywhere I needed to go, around the beach and downtown.” In fact, Fowler’s first bike was originally an older cousin’s. “But that didn’t faze me. I liked it, it was great, it had a little basket out the front and it worked.“
Local biking stores like Clarke Cycles in Essex and Middletown’s Pedal Power have been extremely helpful. Additionally, “We get donations from various organizations like the Lions and the Rotary Clubs around to help us with buying helmets and parts and things.”
Almost 14,000 bicycles have been donated and given to appreciative kids since 1989. Bikes for Kids have brought much-wanted bikes to places as far-flung as Ghana in West Africa.
“We’re always looking for more help, and now that we’ve become a nonprofit, maybe we can get more people, more coverage. We’re always happy for any sort of support.”
Bikes for Kids has two local storage facilities where the bikes are stored. Donations of bikes - and some money for helmets and postage - are always needed and appreciated.
If you’d like to help Bikes for Kids, please contact by phone on 860-395-7321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail donations to: P.O. Box 94, Centerbrook, CT 06409.