The impact of Bikes for the World goes well beyond giving someone a bike. In fact our mission states that Bikes for the World uses the bike as a vehicle to provide opportunities to empower individuals to better their families, communities, and the environment. It's really more about building self-empowerment, which happens all along the path our bikes travel.
Bikes for the World collects, preps, stores, and ships over 12,000 bikes every single year. In our tiny staff of four, only three of us are getting our hands dirty moving all those bikes every week. Without our growing crew of volunteers we could never keep our wheels spinning month after month. It's our dedicated volunteers who have the greatest impact on us and we hope that is reciprocated.
Since moving back into the Rockville community, BfW has refocused our attention to increasing our volunteer opportunities and making them more accessible to a wider audience. This has less to do with needing the manpower to get the job done, and everything to do with wanting to make a powerful, lasting impression on our community. Just as we've found overseas, providing someone with opportunity has much more sustainable value than, in our case, simply giving someone a bike. Bikes for the World knows that 2/3 of youth who volunteer will continue a lifetime commitment to giving back. If you think about the amount of change that is generated through our non profit organizations it's hard to ignore the impact today's youth will have on our future. Their parents realize their potential and so do we.
Over the years we've heard that many volunteer opportunities for kids have an age limit of 14 and higher (once upon a time we were one of them). But realizing the importance of reaching volunteers when they are young, and especially in engaging families to volunteer together, we dropped the age requirement. We also made the time to work with individuals with limitations who often require hands-on instruction. What we found was truly inspirational.
First, kids with special needs just need more time and attention. They are 100% capable of doing the work. In fact, they are often encouraged by the inclusion and success our work provides. Everyone who walks through the door is treated equally. As their ability progresses they may work more or less independently. Second, kids love to help each other. This actually helps them learn. They increase self-esteem, build self confidence... We now have sons and daughters teaching not only their parents, but also other kids and adults, something about bikes, how to use tools, and more importantly how to set a good example in life.
"This isn't about learning something about bikes or how to use Allen wrenches to build IKEA furniture- although both are true. For me working with young people is about empowering them to make a difference. I want to help others realize their own solutions to their problems...and that doesn't just apply to bikes. I can show them how to use a pedal wrench to remove pedals but then I'm going to step back and let them do it. They are often surprised by their own abilities, but then they know they can do it. My hope is they will eventually learn there are many approaches to a problem and leverage, not force, will often win out."Yvette Hess Outreach Coordinator Bikes for the World
Bikes for the World provides an alternative volunteer opportunity; one that involves a lot of hands on activity that many kids respond well to. Getting young people involved is only one step in building a long term relationship with volunteering. Finding an activity that they enjoy, can relate to, and can see the tangible impact they are making is key.
Working on a bike to transform someone's life on the other side of the world is a powerful feeling. Seeing that bike arrive in Ghana, or hearing from the student in the Philippines who now uses it to stay in school is proof that you really can make a difference. We truly are changing lives one bike at a time.