Ron retired from his life as an energy auditor and wanted to give back to his community. After a friend asked for help rounding up bikes for Somalian refugees in the area, he came up with an organization to combine his love for cycling with helping those in need.
On Sunday, January 22, 2011, eTown presented Ron Manganiello with their E-Chievement Award. On the air Ron said “Lots of people literally had no way to get to work or other crucial places they needed to be because they simply could not afford a car.” There were lots of bicycles that either been abandoned or were in need of repair, he had discovered, after he had gotten into commuter or recreational bicycling in recent years, often repairing his own bikes. He decided to use those skills to create a program that literally solved two problems at the same time: providing alternative fossil fuel transportation to those in need and recycling bicycles and parts that would end up in the landfill.
“It started out with an email from a friend who was looking for one bike for a re-settled Somalian refugee and I said ‘Yeah, I have that bike’. And within a few days, Bike Recycle Vermont was started. It just wanted to happen!”
So you’re getting bikes, re-furbishing them and you’re making them available to people in need. And where are the bikes coming from predominantly, asked Nick Forster, host of eTown?
Originally, a lot of them came from the police abandoned bikes and then the UVM provides bikes that the students abandon. Bike people do bike drives for us. Bicycle touring companies have donated bike.
And these bikes come in all kinds of shape – they can be in pretty rough shape, have one wheel or whatever… You fix them up?
Absolutely. If someone calls and says “Do you want my bike, I reply “If it was ever a bike, we want it!
Who gets these bicycles that you fix up?
Originally it was almost always Somalian re-settled refugees. There was a wonderful refugee re-settlement program in Vermont. We broadened that out fairly quickly to anyone with low-income that needed a bike: homeless people, people just out of prison, people who have just found themselves in poverty due to the economy…
You’re talking primarily around Burlington, VT? That’s a town that’s got some bus service and some public transportation?
The bus system around Burlington is small. They don’t have the ridership to justify running buses 24/7 or give you anywhere close to that.
And so, this is a really fundamental need. It enables someone to get to school or to get to work. Now what happens, once they have a bike, and it breaks -what happens then?
Someone who qualifies for our program, by their income, got a bike from us, inherited it … If they show up at our shop, we do very low cost repairs for them. The fundamental mission has always been the same, which is to provide viable, alternative transportation for low income people – people that wouldn’t get served in a regular bike shop.
But, this is a huge effort – you just said: yeah, I’ll do this thing.. I got that bike – now there’s this big project.. Do you have bunch of volunteers, or staff or help I assume?
I’m volunteer. Everyone except for Mark or Americore workers are volunteers.
Any idea how many bikes have been through the program since you started? About 4,000. 4,000 bikes. Wow – that’s amazing! And I’m sure you hear stories – how this makes a difference in people’s lives.
One of the really touching stories that comes to mind right now is a homeless man who literally lived 10 years outside, in Burlington. I met his daughter that just graduated from UVM, as a nurse. She told me just how much that bike meant to him. It was his only way of getting around for years. He finally found a home through a low-income housing program. And we’re also keeping all of these bike detritus out of the landfill.
I love these stories that start with one small simple step. You do one thing and all of a sudden you find there is a need and an opportunity and it keeps going and now, years later, you’ve really made an impact.
It’s pretty rewarding. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life: www.localmotion.org/programs/bikerecycle
Learn more about the eTown’s E-Chievement Award at: www.etown.org