Back in the saddle: Bikes for Kids program revived with Haiti project

Five months after Bikes for Kids founder Chuck Graeb passed away, the group's volunteers are continuing Graeb's mission of getting bikes to the needy.

David Fowler, one of the group's volunteers and a science teacher at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School, has arranged to send 100 refurbished bicycles to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

The bicycles will be sent to Les Cayes, where numerous Haitians from Port-au-Prince fled following the Jan. 12 earthquake. They will be included as part of a 40-foot container filled with generators, tents, food and medical supplies being shipped next week by the Bethesda Evangelical Mission in Wallingford, said mission pastor Lubin Beaucejour.

Beaucejour said gasoline is still in high demand in Haiti and difficult to obtain at times, so residents can use the donated bikes as their main mode of transportation.

"This will be like giving somebody a Rolls Royce," Beaucejour said. "The bike(s) will be more of a blessing than I can explain."

Fowler said he was eager to get the group, which fell dormant after its founder's death, back on its feet.

Because Graeb, who died in September, had single-handedly coordinated the small organization's efforts and required only one or two volunteers at a time, many of the volunteers had never met, Fowler said. "They'd help him out here and there," he said of the volunteers. "We're still trying to find out who some of these (volunteers) are."

For months, the group's main corps of volunteers individually considered how they might keep the group alive. Fowler said one volunteer, Dan Fahey, left a note on a bicycle at one of the storage sheds the group stores bikes in for another volunteer, Richard Wilkins, asking how he could help.

Fowler, meanwhile, continued to refurbish bikes with his students. He donated a handful of bikes to children over Christmas and has fielded numerous calls from people asking whether they could still donate bikes or money.

But it wasn't until Fowler contacted Beaucejour with the idea of sending bikes to Haiti that Bikes for Kids was revived.

The volunteers have their work cut out for them. Fowler said they weren't even sure whether Bikes for Kids was a nonprofit and had no definitive count on the number of bikes in their possession.

A search through state records showed the group was registered in 2008 as a domestic limited liability company. It is not listed as a nonprofit, but Fowler said the group has always donated 100 percent of proceeds to purchasing bicycles, bicycle parts and helmets for children.

Fowler has until now been sending whatever donations he gets for Bikes for Kids to Peter Graeb, one of Graeb's sons, who lives in Connecticut and is handling his father's estate. Fowler, Wilkins and other volunteers will now have to navigate the world of bureaucratic paperwork to transfer the group out of Graeb's name and into theirs.

Fowler envisions the group's future as one the volunteers will help create together.

"It's something that not one of us can all do," Fowler said. "I'm still working full-time and I can't really do that much. But everybody together, we can probably pull this off together easily."

j.cho@theday.com

F.Y.I.

To donate to Bikes for Kids, contact David Fowler at (860) 395-7321 or Richard Wilkins at (860) 434-1211.

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