INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – An organization in Indianapolis is using bicycles to teach kids more than just healthy habits — they’re teaching leadership. Freewheelin’ Community Bikes is a non-profit organization that runs a bike shop at the corner of Central Avenue and 34th Street on the near north side of Indianapolis.
“We are a full-fledged bike shop, turnkey operation, tune-ups, bicycles, accessories,” said Roger Hasper, bike shop manager and the singular full-time employee of the organization. “Every dollar spent in our store is uniquely used to help kids learn about bikes.”
Freewheelin’ teaches kids ages 10 to 18 about bikes through its Earn-A-Bike program – an eight-week course for students to learn about bicycle safety, how to repair a bike, care for a bike and how to ride in a group.
“The sixth week of training, they pick out the bike that they want to repair, they restore it, and then on the eighth week, they take it home with a helmet, a lock and a water bottle,” said John Hay, Freewheelin’ board president.
Each year, between 50 and 70 kids earn a bicycle through Freewheelin’s program. The only cost is a $25 registration fee attached to the application.
Clayton Wimmersberger, 12, first joined the Earn-A-Bike program at the age of 10.
“I was pretty intimidated by all the parts and I mean there are so many parts to a bike that you don’t see unless you take it all apart,” Wimmersberger said. “I picked out a bike and I built it and I fixed it up and I still have it today.”
Freewheelin’ operates mostly on donations. It receives a limited amount of money from the CIBA foundation and in the last four years, the Indy Criterium has donated $47,000. Fundraisers, like the annual Friendraiser, help keep the bike shop running. Hay said there’s another way people can help.
“If you have a bicycle hanging in your garage — and a lot of people do that they don’t use — we can use that bicycle. We’ll use it in the Earn-a-Bike program or we’ll sell it in the shop. We’ll turn it into great opportunities for youth leadership and youth development,” he said.
Freewheelin’ accepts any bicycle donations and points out on its website that “missing parts and flat tires are not a problem.”
The bikes of particular interest for the organization are: kid-size bikes, older 3-speeds, 10-speeds, and cruisers such as Schwinn, Raleigh, Panasonic, Peugeot, and others; quality bike shop brand-names such as Trek, Giant and Cannondale; new comfort bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes and cruisers.
“If we don’t have bikes, the kids have nothing to work on, and we have nothing to sell,” Hasper said.
“We’re trying to teach kids that bicycles are not just about having fun, but they’re a mode of transportation and this is a fun way to get to and from school, to and from work, and a way to think about getting around the rest of your life,” Hay said.
Freewheelin’ was founded about seven years ago by Nancy Stimson, a retired United Methodist pastor. Stimson died recently but continues to inspire the organization.
“She gave herself completely to it and never took a salary and was a great inspiration to many children, many adults,” Hay said.
To donate a bike or to sign up for Earn-A-Bike, click here.