Bikes for the World used bikes collections make great Eagle Scout Service Projects!
Young men who have earned the Life Scout rank and wish to become Eagle Scouts must, according to BSA guidelines, “plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to [a] religious institution, school, or community.”
Bikes for the World (BfW) provides such an opportunity to serve. What's more, it's fun!
BfW is a simple, people-centered project that puts unwanted American bicycles to productive use in societies where they are badly needed and highly-valued. Each delivered bike helps a low-income individual access employment, school, health care, and other vital services. BfW employs “used bicycle collections” to gather the bulk of the material which it delivers overseas. In such efforts, a local sponsor--such as an Eagle Scout candidate and his troop--will provide a site and time (generally a Saturday morning in the spring or fall), publicize the event in the community (making use of local networks and the media), and field and manage five to ten volunteers to prepare donated bikes for shipment as they arrive.
To satisfy the Eagle service requirement, a candidate must first:
- obtain the approval of his unit leader (Scoutmaster, Explorer Advisor, etc.), unit committee, and council or district advancement committee BEFORE he starts;
- identify WHO will benefit, HOW they will benefit, WHO from the group benefited will be contacted for guidance in planning the project; and HOW MANY people will be recruited to carry out the project; and
- show clearly that in implementing this project the Scout accepts “responsibility for planning, direction, and following through to its successful completion.”
BfW bike collections fit within a common category of Eagle project service activity ("collection drives to benefit charity"). Moreover, they have been been approved as Eagle Scout projects in more than 70 cases along the Eastern seaboard, from Connecticut to North Carolina, over the last decade. However, no two collections are alike, and the character and degree of success will depend on the individual Scout’s initiative, energy, and personality.
Primary beneficiaries of BfW’s program are low-income working adults and students overseas, who receive bicycles at cost from local charities to which BfW donates the bikes. Individual recipients use bikes to get to work, bring their farm produce to market, or get to school. Other beneficiaries learn bike mechanic skills and earn income reconditioning BfW-supplied bicycles. Between 2005 and 2012, Bikes for the World has donated more than 72,000 bikes to more than a dozen non-profit groups overseas.
Recycling also benefits American communities, saving money and reducing environmental pressures on over-burdened landfills. Americans threw out millions of bicycles annually; only a few are recycled for scrap (most rust in landfills). Re-using old bicycles serves to remind Americans of the growing range of re-use and recycling opportunities. It also makes us aware of the possibility of bicycles as a legitimate transportation mode--if not on a large scale in our wealthy society, at least in other regions where the bulk of humanity lives.
The BfW coordinator in your area will generally provide written guidelines and customized guidance; supply specialized tools, receipts, and literature; and arrange for pick-up of collected bicycles.
Leadership and Responsibility
Work for the Scout is divided into two parts of equal importance: (1) pre-event publicity and (2) event-day receipt and compaction of bicycles for shipment. Both parts require the Scout to recruit and supervise a crew of volunteers.
An effective marketing strategy is essential to make people aware of the event and per-suade them to donate a bicycle and $10 per bike to defray shipping costs. A Scout must be convinced of the value of the BfW program, and able to effectively communicate. Publicity materials must be designed, reproduced, and distributed. Ideally, recruited volunteers--other scouts, family friends--would expand the coverage.
On collection day, if adequately informed, the public will bring bicycles and an accompanying cash donation to the site, where the sponsor must provide receipts and BfW literature, and compact the bikes for shipment. An effective event requires the Scout to train, assign responsibilities to, and supervise volunteers; deal with the public; manage funds; and “troubleshoot” problems. The candidate, in consultation with the BfW advisor, should make contingency plans for unanticipated difficulties, e.g., too many bikes or not enough volunteers.
A Scout should lay the groundwork for a collection beginning about six weeks before the event. A typical collection can consume anywhere from 40 to 100 or more hours, including planning. The time required will depend on the degree of success sought and the nature and effectiveness of the marketing strategy. We recommend an early start; many publications, for example, have press deadlines a month or more ahead of time. There are no specific Scout requirements for size and time, as long as the project is helpful to the beneficiary institution. According to guidelines, “[t]he amount of time spent...in planning [a] project and the actual working time spent in carrying out the project should be as much as necessary...to demonstrate...leadership of others.”
One important issue that we recommend be clarified early on with a candidate’s unit leader, unit committee, and council or district advancement committee is conformity of BfW collections with the Boy Scouts of America limitation regarding “fundraising” in an Eagle Scout service project. According to BSA guidelines, “Fundraising is permitted only for securing materials or supplies needed to carry out [a] project.” To date—more than 70 cases--consulted Scout advisors and Bikes for the World understand this to permit advertising a suggested $10 per bike donation to defray collection and shipping costs, which is BfW’s standard policy, understanding that the Scout’s project is not just to obtain, but to ensure the shipment of, the collected bicycles. Funds donated at a collection may also be used to cover a Scout’s out-of-pocket costs (reproduction, refreshments for volunteers, supplies). Note: to get a donated bike overseas, reconditioned, and into the hands of a beneficiary averages over $20. Therefore, even with receiving a $10 donation with each bicycle, BfW “loses” money. BfW covers the shortfall through small individual donations, foundation grants, and recipient agency payments for shipping.
Assuming that your local Scout officials are comfortable that Bikes for the World collections meet the permissible fundraising criteria, handling funds is a sensitive matter, and a candidate should review this aspect prior to the collection with his Scout advisor(s) and the Bikes for the World representative. While it may be preferable to designate an adult to receive donations and make out receipts, managing funds is also a significant responsibility that can be a valuable part of the Eagle Scout service project experience.
Once you complete your project, the Eagle Scout review board must approve the manner in which it was carried out. Questions the panel may ask include:
- Did you demonstrate leadership of others?
- Were you indeed the project director, rather than doing [all] the work yourself?
- Was the project helpful to the benefited institution [Bikes for the World in this case]?
- Did the project follow the plan? If changes were made, why were they made?
Bikes for the World provides a form asking the sponsor to evaluate the collection experience for BfW, which can be useful as well in responding to the review board’s questions. PDF version of above
Hear from Eagle Scouts on Bikes for the World Projects
2005, 63 bikes collected
“The collection was a great project because it put me in a position to coordinate and lead a very hands on event. I remember feeling overwhelmed by some of the planning at the time, but in reality, it was great preparation for the amount of planning some work required in college and beyond in the work force. Additionally, it sparked my interest in efforts to behave in a more sustainable manner. Eventually, during school at Dickinson College, I became very involved in their campus sustainability programs, helping to educate the student body on what the school was doing to be "greener." Looking back, the time coordinating work with Bikes for the World probably implanted that desire in me to see things put to good use through recycling and reusing.
Also, while many Eagle projects seem to emphasize several days of physical work, this one was unique in that I was able to complete much of the work on that one day at REI, while the work leading up to it, and hours of planning were equally as valuable and certainly important. In that sense, I think the collection better prepared me for college and professional life than the usual trail cleaning or what have you, as most things are not physical, but organizational in nature once you move past the days of scouts.”
Zachary Holz, Troop 582
2007, 147 bikes collected
“Wow...that's really all I can say. In my opinion, the drive went phenomenally well. I really was very scared the morning of...having no idea how many people the news had reached. A lot of people responded though, and we helped 147 people overseas. Plus, I had a lot of fun...the drive was like managing a small business: commanding your workers, filling out receipts, bustling around. It was quite a bit of work, but thankfully everything came through in the end. I think all my volunteers had a great time too...their faces after riding the recumbent around were a true testament to that.
Thanks for your absolutely invaluable help too, it really got me through this Eagle Process. You were easily approachable, responded quickly to my emails (which was incredible), and wanted me to succeed (which I certainly did). Thank you.”
Alex Tatem Troop 255
2012, 90 bikes collected
“The best part was being able to recruit so many volunteers (that were not into cycling) and making them aware and teaching them about bikes and bikes for the world. I think everyone had a great time.
The great part about the collection was before it even started I had about 25 bikes. This was very useful because right when the volunteers arrived they could start working rather than 25 volunteers sitting around waiting for one bike to arrive. Having my volunteers constantly busy really moved the collection on smoothly and helped when all the other bikes started to flow in a lot faster. I had the trailers and vans open in the parking lot. I had people constantly loading the vans and trailers the whole time and had someone at the trailers approving the bikes before they were put in. “