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It begins with a bike: Communicycle emphasizes sustainability and unlikely helpers in its mission

Byline: Dani Brown, Director of Strategic Communication at RiverWise

Photo credit: Erin Ninehouser for RiverWise

Communicycle keeps things circular.

The nonprofit doesn’t just focus on

providing quality bicycles to children

— though that’s a significant part of

their mission. It’s more holistic and

all-encompassing than that.

Communicycle takes into consideration how they receive their parts, who fixes the bikes, who receives the bike and maintains its upkeep, and then how to dispose of its unusable parts.

It’s a picture of the three Es of sustainability — economy, equity, and environment —

and it’s an example of a circular economy where community is at the center.

By fixing up old bicycles rather than giving out brand new ones, Communicycle is saving

money for their organization and for residents who otherwise couldn’t afford a new

bicycle from a big-box store. The nonprofit properly recycles its scrap metal and saves

beat up bikes from ending up in the landfill.

And, Communicycle prioritizes social equity by not only providing bikes to those in need

but by purposefully seeking volunteers that society often overlooks.

It’s a metaphor for what a sustainable community looks like, and it all starts with a bike.

Communicycle partners with Gateway

Rehab and provides an opportunity for

those in active recovery to learn how to

fix bikes. Residents with developmental

and learning differences who are

enrolled in programming at the Beaver

County Rehabilitation Center, or BCRC,

can also visit Communicycle to help fix bikes.

Retirees, business people on their lunch break, church groups, and more also tinker with the bikes.

Communicycle provides a unique learning and empowerment platform that is accessible

to all. It welcomes individuals who need additional support or are going through tough

times. Simultaneously, it also opens doors for professionals who can volunteer with their

staff, as well as active retirees. Everyone is encouraged to roll up their sleeves and

contribute to a good cause through hands-on participation.

Everyone can learn how to fix a bike, Lee Montanari, executive director of

Communicycle, says. It’s about the people. Communicycle’s volunteers are an integral

part of its mission: to build relationships in the name of bike tinkering.

Unlikely helpers

Kyle was incredibly intimidated the first time he arrived at Communicycle.

“I’m not mechanically inclined at all,” he said.

Kyle is currently a client at Gateway Rehab, and is one of several folks in their program

who come weekly to work on bicycles.

“I like seeing something broken and then getting to fix it,” Kyle said. “It’s like recovery.”

“I leave here and I fixed something,” he added. “I did that.”

Once clients at Gateway reach a certain phase in their recovery, they have the

opportunity to complete community service for roughly 12-hours a week.

Kyle was excited for the chance to

give back to his community, and to

learn a new skill he can take with him

when he goes home.

“I wanted to learn how to (fix) bikes

because I went through four or five

bikes as a child,” he said. “I wanted to

learn something new. It’s a new skill I

can go and teach my kid.”

Jonathan Smith also really enjoys tinkering with bikes.

“I enjoy it more than anything else we do,” he said. He’s also at Gateway and was eager

for the opportunity to learn.

“Not a lot of people know how to fix bikes, so we learn a bit about how to do it and then

we start doing it,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan, Kyle, and others in the program visit Communicycle once a week to help out.

Each week looks a little different because every bike has a different need.

“Each bike’s a different animal,” Jonathan said. “We have a checklist over here that you

can run through. You start at the top and go to the bottom.”

Jonathan said safety is a priority, especially because many of the bikes go to kids.

“We just make sure that they’re safe and operational for anyone that might pick them

up. That includes safety checks and point checks for reflectors and brakes,” he added.

Jonathan never misses an opportunity to help out at Communicycle.

“I’ve moved up as fast as one possibly could within the program, so I’ve been out here

every single time I could come out. Barring an act of God or a storm or something like

that where we can’t come out, we’re here every week,” he said.

Service is a huge component of

recovery, Jonathan added.

“‘You really can’t keep what you have

without giving it away,’ is the old

adage,” he said. “So, the more you can

do that, get out of your own head, kind

of move out of yourself and towards

whatever that Northstar is, that Polaris,

that you are moving towards, then

absolutely. It gets you out of your head. You come here and think about not yourself. What am I doing to help other people in the community? That gets me out of my own head and out of my own addiction.”

Kyle feels similarly.

“It’s therapeutic. It gives me patience, and that’s something I don’t have,” he said. “And

it’s trial and error — it’s ok if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a little tweaking here and

there to make everything right.”

It’s a metaphor for the human experience and for the value of community. Lee doesn’t

pass judgment on anyone who walks through Communicycle’s doors — from those in

recovery to those in need of a bike. Because it’s not about a person’s past or what got

them into their present situation.

“It’s about relationships,” Lee said.

Lee tries to create a space where people are seen and respected, and given an

opportunity to learn something new. And not just to learn a new skill — although that’s a

major benefit of Communicycle — but to learn something new about themselves and

their neighbors.

Communicycle meets people where they are and provides opportunities for all folks to

easily join in and give back to those who need a bike.

“The bike has always been the reason we get together,” Lee said. “But it’s about what

happens through it. I like that there’s stuff happening — there’s connections being made

— that I’ll never know about.”

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