Published in Issue #4 | Spring 2016
By Stephanie Hunt
Chances are, you’re harboring an orphan. There’s a beater in your garage or shed—as in a rinkydink beaten-up, orphaned old bike sporting a rusty chain, maybe missing a spoke, definitely a very flat tire. It’s been taking up space so long that now you hang rags on it, prop the shovel against the handlebars. You used to love to cruise around the neighborhood on it, or your kids did, but they outgrew it a while ago and no one’s gotten around to taking it to Goodwill or the pawn shop, so there it sits. Sad and lonely and in your way.
Yep, Chris Tate knows all about that, and he’s eager to take it off your hands. Even better, he and a bunch of middle schoolers will take your old bike and transform it into hope.
As Dean of the Middle School at Porter-Gaud, Chris is always on the hunt for service opportunities and innovative ways to teach character values (also called social and emotional learning in educationspeak)with his impressionable adolescents. He’s also got a good eye for junk. “So one day when I saw a perfectly good mountain bike tossed on a curb-side trash heap, I did what any good garbage picker does. I rescued it and put it in my car,” Chris says. By the time he got home, he’d collected two other bikes destined for the landfill. Unsure what to do with his new treasures, Chris googled “bike recycling” and discovered an organization called Bicycles for Humanity. He read more about this global, grassroots nonprofit that collects bicycles to ship to developing countries where they are repaired and become much needed, indeed often life-changing, transportation.
HIS WHEELS STARTED SPINNING.
“I called the founder of Bicycles for Humanity and asked about starting a Charleston chapter, and before long, we were up and running. And the beauty is my middle school students did it all – developed the website, created Facebook and Instagram accounts to help promote it, held bake sales to raise initial funds,” Chris says. Last January, the Charleston chapter shipped its first container full of 450 bikes to Uganda, where the shipping container they purchased for the delivery (that’s the only cost associated with the program – $2500 per container, raised through bake sales and other fundraisers) gets converted to a repair workshop, dubbed a Bicycle Empowerment Center. People on the ground in Karamoja, Uganda (or where ever a chapter delivers their bikes) get trained in bicycle repair, so local jobs are created and job-skills taught, then villagers get a much easier way to carry their goods to market, or get to the doctor ten miles away. One hundred percent of donations go toward giving usable bikes to those who need them.
“I love how this service project gives students so many learning opportunities—from the nuts and bolts of creating and operating a non-profit organization, to learning about different countries and cultures,” says Chris, a former baseball player at the University of South Carolina who also serves as JV football coach for the Cyclones. The father of two (daughter Gina is 7; son Benedetto, 4) is particularly proud that the Charleston chapter of Bicycles for Humanity is the organization’s only chapter run entirely by 11 and 12 year olds.
“I’m a big believer that kids want to be helpful, they want to be useful and love finding ways to connect to the broader world around them. Can an 11-year old make a difference? Well, maybe or maybe not, but that 11-year old’s bike can make a big difference in someone’s life,” he says. “For us, riding a bike is mostly a leisure activity or exercise, but over there it’s a game changer.” It means a doctor can get to a clinic more quickly, or a mother gets an easier trek home from her daily gathering of water. It brings hope via two wheels to people who need it, and gives young students an ability to change the world,one bike at a time.
And about those bikes abandoned in garages or backyards—Chris admits he’s got one. It’s his favorite bike: “A BMX Torker I’ve had since 1982. I don’t’ know if you know anything about BMX bikes, but it’s the Cadillac. It’s vintage now, but I still love it.”
If you’ve got some wheels or an old frame to donate, let Chris and the kids at Charleston’s Bicycles for Humanity a shout: b4h-charleston.org