BELLOWS FALLS -- A Giant Diversion bicycle, in all its dinged-up glory, stands hoisted up in the workshop of the BF Community Bike Project's facility. Its handlebars are missing grips and its paintjob has seen better days. And, having been built around 1991, it is about 11 years older than the young man repairing it.
Andrew Malshuk spent hours Tuesday tinkering away on the bicycle he would call his own by the end of the night. The Bellows Falls Middle School student is the community bike project's first "earn-a-bike" recipient, having put in his obligatory five volunteer hours to bring home his own bike that had been donated to the program. Those involved with the BF Community Bike Project hope Malshuk is the first of many recipients, as the program has recently received two grants to finance its operations.
The project received a $5,000 grant from the Windham Foundation and one for $1,075 from the Vermont Community Foundation. President Bonnie Anderson said the money will be used to help cover rent, increased winter utility costs and purchase tools, supplies and promotional materials. She said Gary Fox, the director of the Sustainable Valley Group, the project's fiscal sponsor, applied for the grants. The money comes from the Vermont Community Foundation as part of a $2,150 grant to SVG to help further its mission of producing a sustainable local economy through job expansion and education.
Fox told the Reformer the BF Community Bike Project is working to achieve three goals: build self-esteem for disadvantaged youth and low-income adults by equipping them with bicycle maintenance skills; spread the importance of bicycle safety; and collaborate with local schools and youth programs on bicycle-related events. The BF Community Bike Project started over the summer and Fox said the grant comes at a crucial time, as 80 percent of start-ups fail during their first year of operation.
Anderson said the program is completely volunteer based and about six adults offer their time. The "earn-a-bike" program, which Malshuk benefited from, requires children under 14 to put in five volunteer hours and those 14 and older to do 10 in order to take home their own set of wheels. Malshuk, 11, said he started working on the bike about two months ago after helping clean and break down donated bikes during his volunteer hours. He told the Reformer he got involved in the BF Community Bike Project after hearing about it from his mother, who is friends with Anderson.
"I'm always taking things apart and putting them back together and seeing how they work," he said while working on the bike in the program's 3,000-square-foot facility at 24 Canal St. Malshuk is being helped by volunteer Mickey Denoncourt, who has been involved in the bicycle business most of his life. He said he has been racing bicycles for 20 years and runs his own bike brand, Spooky, out of Bellows Falls.
Denoncourt said he has already seen the effects the BF Community Bike Project has on the village.
"I think this is a really awesome thing for Bellows Falls," he said. "In many ways, young people are over cars. They don't want cars."
Though Denoncourt enjoys volunteering his time, most of Malshuk's help of his new bike came from Todd Ward, who is the shop manager and a member of the board of directors. Anderson said Ward has donated all his bicycle tools and equipment, as well as many bikes to the project. Ward told the Reformer he is working to refurbish a handicap-accessible tricycle for Bellows Falls Union High School.
Anderson said a group from the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of America comes in to work on basic skills such as removing wheels and tires and testing bike tubes, and seven or eight students from the Compass School volunteer twice a week as part of their required community service.
A slowly developing addition to the operation is known as Upcycled Goods, which aims to create different objects from parts of unsalvageable bicycles. Anderson said there is a wheel that has already been earmarked to be made into a clock, while spokes will likely be turned into jewelry and doormats, belts and wallets can be woven out of inner tubes. Items will be sold to support the BF Community Bike Project.