Don loves bicycles. They have always been part of his life.
When he thinks about the very first bicycle he received as a child over 60 years ago, a smile spreads across his face. He remembers how it glinted in the sunlight and the many happy hours he spent riding it through his neighborhood. He also recalls how, a bit later in life, he used a bicycle to commute to and from work for several years. Now, he spends hours each week in his garage workshop refurbishing donated bicycles for refugees, the homeless, and others who might need an alternative form of transportation.
“It started when my daughter introduced me to a local Syrian refugee family and I began visiting them weekly to help them practice English and answer questions they might have about life in the U.S.,” Don reminisces. “Only two of their three boys had bikes. That just did not seem right, so I started scrounging for a third.” He found a used bicycle and repaired it for the young boy.
“I took him for a ride and realized that he was not familiar with multi-speed bicycles, so I showed him how to operate it. The result of all this was three kids who had a great time riding their bikes around the apartment complex and going on a few excursions in the forest preserve with me and their dad.”
Don wanted to connect with even more refugee families in his community, so he completed World Relief DuPage/Aurora’s (WRDA) volunteer training and was quickly matched with a family from Nepal as a friendship partner. He wanted to get bicycles for these new friends as well. “I learned that World Relief gets donated bikes, but that many of them are not roadworthy. So I offered to fix some for them.”
Now Don has over 35 bicycles from WRDA and People’s Resource Center stored in his garage workshop, waiting to be refurbished and donated to a refugee family or someone else in need. He makes the necessary repairs and gives each bicycle a detailed cleaning. “I want to get them as close to ‘showroom clean’ as possible,” Don explains. “They may not be new, but I want them to look new! The smiling faces of the families I have delivered bikes to make all the elbow grease worth it.”
When Don delivers a refurbished bicycle, he offers a service contract to go along with it. “If I have prepped a bike for someone to ride to work and something goes awry, I don’t want them to miss work. I will come get it and fix it on the spot.”
Don, a mechanical engineer, has always enjoyed tinkering with bicycles in his spare time, but since he began repairing bicycles for refugees he has discovered the many ways that refugee families can benefit from them. “If someone has a job opportunity but lacks a vehicle, a bike can be a huge enabler,” he says. Having a reliable, roadworthy bicycle can make it possible to travel to and from work. “Second,” Don continues, “for teenagers whose friends live in different apartment complexes around the area, a bicycle enables normal socialization.”
“Finally, families with limited means are as keen on getting their children playthings as any of us are,” Don reflects. “Getting a six-year old his or her first bike is as big a thrill for me as it was to do the same for my own children, and it brings the parents so much joy to be able to watch their kids riding and having fun with their friends.”
Like so many of World Relief’s volunteers, Don has found a way to use his unique skills and passions to bless refugee and immigrant families. The joy he feels as he prepares each bicycle and delivers it to one of our new neighbors is what we want for each of our amazing volunteers.
That is what volunteering is all about.