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Santa Wheels program provides bikes for children

Program provides bikes for kids

Posted: November 25, 2012 - 12:01am
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Army Pvt. Chris Garza (front) and Staff Sgt. Sam Chanek from Fort Gordon repair bicycles for the Santa Wheels program at Pontiac Master GMC in Martinez.   Photo By Valerie Rowell
Photo By Valerie Rowell
Army Pvt. Chris Garza (front) and Staff Sgt. Sam Chanek from Fort Gordon repair bicycles for the Santa Wheels program at Pontiac Master GMC in Martinez.

George Sleister’s decision to repair a bicycle nearly 20 years ago has grown into a community collaboration that makes Christmas possible for hundreds of area children.

“I spotted a bicycle in a trash can that needed some tires but was otherwise in good condition,” said Sleister, a retired general manager of Master Buick GMC in Martinez. “So I decided to fix it up and give it to a child for Christmas.

“Somehow, the word got out (about) what I did, and people started bringing me used bikes to fix and give away.”

In their spare time, Sleister and his body shop workers and mechanics toiled away to repair bikes to distribute. They gave away 100 bikes their first year.

“Then it got so big that we couldn’t handle it all,” he said. “So we stopped for a while and then got back into it.”

Sleister regrouped and formed what he called “the best partnership possible” to get the operation up and rolling again.

In 2007, Goodwill Industries became a partner of what is now called Santa Wheels, a program that provides more than 200 disadvantaged children with a refurbished bicycle.

In addition to accepting applications on behalf of children, Goodwill workers help refurbish the bicycles.

“We supply six to eight clients who are transitioning back into the work force the opportunity to learn how to repair the bikes,” said Amy Brietmann, regional manager of volunteer services for Goodwill Industries.

“It’s really a double blessing,” Brietmann said. “These individuals are able to give back to the community, which is something that many of them have never been able to do, and they gain valuable work skills.”

That six-week training is under the guidance of another partner in the program, Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Drew Jordan of the bicycle work.

“Andy Jordan’s also provides all of the parts for free,” Sleister said.

“We have always wanted to do something to better the community,” Jordan said, “and this was a natural fit for us.”

Along with the trainees from Goodwill, individuals and groups from throughout the community also volunteer to clean and paint the bicycles. Volunteers also provide refreshments on work days, conduct bike donation drives and assist during the giveaway.

“This program is just a great collaborative effort,” Brietmann said.

Jordan agrees it’s a great way for the community to help, especially since it’s all about the kids.

“That’s where the real reward is,” Jordan said. “Their eyes light up and their faces are just glowing,” he said.

“At first, some of the kids don’t even realize that they get to keep the bike,” Brietmann added.

“And many of them are literally just learning how to ride,” Jordan said.

The kids receive their bicycles at a bicycle rodeo, where they also are taught bicycle safety.

“It’s an amazing day,” said Rene Hopkins, Augusta’s SAFE Kids Coalition coordinator.

At the bike rodeo, “SAFE Kids is able to teach parents and kids about being visible and the rules of the road,” Hopkins said, “and all in a fun environment.”

SAFE Kids also makes sure that each child is fitted with the right size heland is shown the proper, and safe, way to wear it , Hopkins added.

This year’s bike rodeo will take place Dec. 13. Brietmann said donations of gently-used bicycles (single speed preferred, sizes 16 through 26) are still needed and will be accepted through Dec. 5.

They may be dropped off at Master Buick GMC or Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse.

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