Every year over the holiday season, The Patriot-News presents 12 Days of Caring, highlighting a dozen charities that provide needed services in our community. Each of the organizations featured depends on donations to help underwrite their operations.
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Joe Hermitt, The Patriot-NewsJacquan Cousar looks for a wrench while fixing a bike at Recycle Bicycle, a nonprofit that fixes up bikes and gives bikes to needy kids in Harrisburg, as well as needy adults who need a bike because they have no other transportation. Jacquan needed a bike, and Recycle Bicycle gave him one. They also taught Cousar how to repair bikes, and now Cousar works as a volunteer repairing bikes for Recycle Bicycle.
Jacquan Cousar came to Recycle Bicycle in need of a bicycle. He got that and a lot more.
Cousar one day last summer walked up to Recycle Bicycle’s warehouse off Derry Street in Harrisburg with his mother and his beaten-up bicycle.
Recycle Bicycle fixes bicycles for kids for free. They’ll also give a bicycle to a kid, or needy adult, who doesn’t have one.
But Ross Willard, the director of Recycle Bicycle, has his own version of sweat equity, similar to Habitat for Humanity’s requirement that people help build their own homes. Willard said Cousar could get a bike — the one he brought in was beyond repair — but he’d have to earn it.
Willard and the other volunteers who keep Recycle Bicycle spinning taught Cousar how to tear apart, build and repair not just his own bicycle, but bicycles for others in need.
“They wanted me to know that not everything in life is free,” said Cousar.
Three weeks after he first walked in, Cousar had a good bicycle and new skills that will last a lifetime. Cousar ended up spending most of the summer working for Recycle Bicycle as a volunteer. He’s back in school now, an 18-year-old student at Harrisburg High, but Cousar still devotes his Saturday mornings to volunteering for Recycle Bicycle.
Willard, a 60-year-old retired railroad mechanic, started Recycle Bicycle just over 10 years ago. The idea came to him as he was helping his wife give out food to needy people on the streets of Harrisburg. He saw one kid after another ride by on a bike clearly in need of repair, either with no brakes, flat tires or both.
At that point, Willard said he decided that brakes are more important than food. The food he and his wife gave away could keep a child going for several weeks. But in seconds, any one of those children riding a bicycle without brakes could be killed by a passing car.
Willard pursues his passion with the zeal of a missionary. In the summer, Willard and other volunteers with Recycle Bicycle load up a trailer with tools and bike parts and they go to block parties, festivals and any other such gathering where large numbers of kids are likely to be. Then they fix the bikes for the kids for free, so they can ride safely.
Kids can also come to Recycle Bicycle’s warehouse like Cousar did, to get their bike repaired or to get a bike if they don’t have one. Willard always asks that a parent or guardian come along.
Recycle Bicycle also provides bicycles to adults who need them to get to a job because they have no other transportation. Willard said if a homeless man or woman is riding a bicycle in Harrisburg, they probably got it from Recycle Bicycle.
If it’s an emergency, like the Red Cross needing bicycles for children in a family that has lost its home, Willard will give them away on the spot. But whenever he can, he prefers to use bicycles to teach a broader life lesson, as in Cousar’s case.
He and his helpers have taught several homeless men how to become bicycle mechanics and they now also work as volunteers in the Recycle Bicycle warehouse. Willard gives bicycles to prison inmates who are in work release programs in both Cumberland and Dauphin counties, so they can get to their jobs.
The warehouse is filled with bicycles, tires, brakes and cables, and other spare parts. If you’ve got a bicycle, or even a bunch of old bikes, that you no longer use and that are cluttering up your garage, Willard will gladly take them off your hands for no charge.
It doesn’t matter how bad the condition. “If it’s run over by a car I want it. The tubes and tires may still be good,” Willard said.
Recycle Bicycle can never have too many bicycles. The overflow goes overseas. So far this year, Recycle Bicycle has shipped about 500 bicycles to Uganda, Ghana, Albania and Vietnam.
How To Help
- Donations should be made out to Recycle Bicycle of Harrisburg, Pa. and sent to the organization at 6 Creekside Drive, Enola, PA 17025
- Recycle Bicycle welcomes castoff bikes. To donate a bike, call 717-732-0910.
- Volunteers are also needed to help repair bikes.