I first mentioned Kickstand a couple of weeks ago when I encountered Paul Laudeman and Kickstart volunteers at the Parkridge block party. Paul has been with the program from its formal beginning and heads it up today. They were handing out helmets to children and helping them repair their bicycles. Fascinated with what they are up to, a week or so later I visited their current residence at 1323 North Broadway, in a small shed and basement behind Fourth United Presbyterian Church. The congregation has been kind enough to give them space for their tools and supplies and, hopefully, a long term home.
The “long term home” part of that has been a problem. The group started informally on Market Square some years ago when a group of bicycle enthusiasts decided to periodically repair bikes there and began providing bikes for the homeless. It evolved into the non-profit Knoxville Bike Collective – a name that they still sometimes use – but over time, “Kickstand” seemed like a bit of a snappier name. Brad Hedge, one of the primary volunteers and a serious bicycle repairman, talked me through the history and mission of the group.
The group settled into several locations – I think I ran into them next to Sawworks -which was then Marble City Brewing Company a few years ago. Various problems ended their tenure at each of their locations, including a stint on Magnolia at the Tribe One location, and the group eventually slowed down and seemed to fall a bit off the radar. Once the minister at Fourth Presbyterian offered them a space, however, business has been very good. John Meyers and Brad Hedge came on board just over a year ago and are central to the current setup.
The last transition was a particularly challenging one with their tools and inventory literally sitting outside while they found a place for it. It was Elizabeth Peterson who came to the rescue by offering the space behind the church.
And just what is that business? I mentioned that I purchased a bicycle from them, but they sell very few bikes. An occasional bike does come their way that offers the chance to have a small amount of cash-flow to buy necessary parts, but generally they give away bicycles and helmets to the people most in need. Some of the bikes are given directly when, for example, someone approaches them with no money, but needing a bicycle for transportation to a job. Other times a social service agency or church might direct their attention to someone with a similar need.
Most of the bicycles go to people who have worked enough hours to earn one or who build it themselves with the help of the volunteers.So far this year 32 bikes have gone to people who came and built their own or who donated enough sweat equity to earn one. Sixty others have been given away since Christmas to individuals and groups like Bridge Refugee Service. The days that I visited I found a family of two sisters and a younger brother working on bicycles and doing an amazing job. The girls are in their mid-teens and don’t have a driver’s license, so they were interested in earning transportation. Their younger brother learned to ride the first day I visited.
For people who think of biking in 2014 as something that small children do after receiving a brand new bike on Christmas morning or the odd person in spandex who rides long distances and irritates them as they drive past, it’s kind of surprising to learn that many of the cyclists – even in this country – are the working poor. A bicycle can be a lifeline out of poverty as it enables people to broaden their range of accessible job opportunities. It’s a significant potential economic benefit for not only the families directly involved, but also the community.
Of course, while economics is often the focus, if not obsession, in our country, there are other important benefits of biking and of a program like Kickstand. Childhood obesity is epidemic, particularly among the poor, and biking helps fight that. Short of obesity, general exercise makes for a healthier population and for reduced personal and societal health care costs as well as a better quality of life. Additionally, it is our children who suffer most on our poor air quality days and every adult who takes a trip on a bike rather than in a car is helping improve that air quality.
Brad pointed out that bicycles have acquired a certain “style factor” that had been missing among many adults in our area, with the numbers of bikers in their twenties and thirties increasing rapidly. He bikes to the shop from Island Home and he describes it as inundated with bikes. He feels attitudes have changed towards bikers with unfortunate incidents between bikers and drivers being far less common now.
I’m happy to have stumbled into these guys and their important work. I’m very appreciative of what they do and of my first bike as an adult. There are good guys and bad guys in the city and most of us muddle around somewhere in between, but these are good people doing good work. Why not consider donating an old bike? Condition doesn’t really matter as they can likely find some good use for the parts if nothing else. They are also in need of volunteers in order to extend their hours and their reach to more people. Can you help?