Inmates assemble bikes to be donated to abused, neglected kidsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Eighty-eight kids in Northwest Ohio will get bikes this Christmas thanks to a partnership between Lucas County Children Services (LCCS) and a Columbus-based nonprofit.
The bicycles, donated by Bike Lady Inc., were assembled Dec. 5 by seven inmates at Toledo Correctional Institution (TCI). LCCS will distribute 50 of the bikes as part of its annual holiday gift drive for caregivers and families to give as gifts.
Twenty bikes will go to Wood County, eight to Hancock County, six to Sandusky County and four to Fulton County. This is the third year for the partnership in Lucas County and the first year for the other Northwest Ohio counties.
Most of the bikes will go to kids living with relatives or in their own homes while their parents work with LCCS, said Julie Malkin, public information officer for LCCS. Some will go to children in foster care. LCCS is working with donors to make sure each child also gets a helmet with the bike, Malkin said.
“This is huge,” she said. “Bikes are a ‘big ticket’ item, especially the teen bikes. Many of our families couldn’t otherwise afford to purchase a new bike for the child or children in their lives. It means a lot to us as an agency to be able to allow these families to give such an amazing gift to the kids we serve.”
Joshua Faulkner, 30, of East Toledo got a little teary during assembly thinking about his own children and his own first bike, a neon green Huffy he got for Christmas when he was 7 or 8.
“My mom tricked me on Christmas,” he said. “She said I’d been bad so there were no presents under the tree. She asked me to feed and water the dog — and all my presents were there on the back porch, including the bike.”
The bike is still in his garage, even though no one rides it anymore.
“I just can’t part with it,” he said.
Faulkner, who is serving a five-year sentence for burglary, is scheduled for release in February. He said he volunteered because he can’t be with his own four kids this Christmas.
“I have kids, I love kids, I’m just a big kid myself,” he said. “I can’t be there for my kids right now but I love the fact I can be there for someone else’s kids. It makes me feel better about myself as a dad.
“I’m learning to do things to humble myself and be more productive. I want to put myself in a new environment. Doing projects like this helps prepare you. It’s very humbling to do something with nothing expected to be given back.
“The best part is some little kid will be smiling riding this bike – maybe a few crashes and burns – but it will be alright,” he added, smiling.
Armondo Ballard, 22, of Cincinnati is serving four years for drug trafficking and a weapons charge. He is scheduled for release in 2018.
“I’d do whatever for the kids, just to see the smile on the kids’ faces,” Ballard said. “It means a lot. Everyone doesn’t get to have bikes. Just to think about someone getting on this bike I put together, asking ‘Can I ride my bike?’ That feels good to be part of them smiling.”
Ballard said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d ridden a bike himself, but his first bike was a gold Rhino with no front brakes he fixed up with his grandpa.
“My grandpa had in the garage for a long time. Thought I’d fix it up and just ride it,” he said.
Ballard said it’s good for kids to stay active.
“You want to give kids a lot of activities – something busy and positive — so they don’t end up in places like this,” he said.
Anthony Wheatley has helped assemble the bikes for two years now.
“Gotta make sure kids have something to have fun,” said Wheatley, 33, of Toledo. “If I was out there with one of these babies, I’d be riding in the snow.”
He’s serving nine years for two counts of felonious assault and one count of escape. He shot two people in a car outside a North Toledo carryout during a botched robbery in 2010.
“It makes me feel good. It makes my heart warm,” Wheatley said. “It helps me out, shows I can do something positive and not just negative things. It’s a good opportunity to redeem myself and show people we’re not all who they think we are. We’re not monsters; we’re people who made mistakes.”
Corey Foster, deputy warden of special services, said the situation is win-win.
“This allows our offenders to be engaged in something positive and meaningful,” Foster said. “It goes into the concept of restorative justice and giving back to society.”
Everyone who’s part of the process is touched by it, said Bike Lady founder Kate Koch.
“The inmate who assembles it. The caseworker who passes it to the caregiver and the caregiver who passes it to the child. And the donors — they tell me they get up on Christmas morning and go through their normal family routine, but in the back of their minds, they’re thinking about the 1,000 kids in Ohio who just saw a bike and are flipping out and it makes them feel really good,” Koch said. “For every population who is touching this bike, it’s a little bit of a gift from them and a little bit of a gift for them. And I think that’s really cool.”
Bike Lady was founded in 2008 in Franklin County and expanded to eight counties, including Lucas, in 2012. Last year, Bike Lady distributed 1,141 bikes in 16 counties. Bikes will be distributed in 16 counties again this year with four more on a waiting list if extra funding comes through, Koch said.
“For the little kids, it’s very important just for the freedom, the joy, the ability to be like any other kid on the block,” said Koch, a foster-turned-adoptive parent in Gahanna, a Columbus suburb. “For bigger kids, it’s an extremely practical form of transportation.
“We heard from the family of an 11-year-old boy who got one of our bikes and he said getting a new bike made him feel like a billionaire. Everybody remembers their first bike. When you’re talking about kids who don’t have a lot of really positive memories from their childhood, this is one they’ll have that they’ll carry lifelong and I think that’s a positive thing.”