HARWICH — They arrived rusty, dirty, and tired, but thanks to the efforts of a group of students, a fleet of buffed-up bicycles will soon roll off the campus at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. Repaired and revived, the bikes are destined for homes with Habitat for Humanity families as part of a community service project for the SkillsUSA program at the school.
“We don’t really have a bike repair curriculum,” said Peggy Reilly-O’Brien, the program’s chapter coordinator and also a dental assisting instructor at the school. “But,” she added, “a lot of the skills that they needed for refurbishing the bikes they’re learning in their shops.”
With the pandemic curtailing the school’s outside projects, including the SkillsUSA group’s annual Dream Builder’s Breakfast that has raised funds for Habitat for Humanity in the past, Reilly-O’Brien was lamenting the students’ loss of connection with the nonprofit when she came across a magazine article about a bicycle donation program.
The article explained, Reilly-O’Brien said, how a worldwide shortage of bicycles is making it difficult for anyone to purchase a bike — and even used bikes are hard to come by. Apparently, suppliers have been unable to keep up with a Covid-driven spike in demand for bikes as alternate transportation or for outdoor exercise.
A little research confirmed the shortage has had an effect here. “When you see them on Craigslist or Cape Cod yard sales on Facebook, they’re really expensive — if you can find them,” said Reilly-O’Brien.
“I pitched it to the kids,” she said. “ ‘Do you think you could work on bikes and we’ll donate them to Habitat families?’ They thought that was a great idea.”
Her next pitch was to the shop instructors. “I have no clue how to work on a bike or a car or anything like that, but we do have experts in the building,” she said. “They embraced it.”
With everyone on board, the bike drive began in earnest. During SkillsUSA week in February, students, teachers, and staff were asked to donate “gently used bikes.” That drive netted 16 bikes — all the program could handle for this year — “in all sorts of shape,” said Reilly-O’Brien. “Some of them had been sitting in sheds or outside.”
“Some of them just needed cleaning up, but the majority had some rusty parts and flat tires,” said Ken Townsend, the lead auto collision instructor at the school.
The bikes ranged from tricycles to adult size. And, Townsend said, it seemed many of them were Barbie-themed. Which meant the work included making the bikes more appealing to all cyclists. “We removed all the decals and refinished them to a neutral color, so they could be used for a guy as well,” he said.
That’s not to say the students wanted the bikes to be boring. Reilly-O’Brien ordered up parts not only for seats and pedals but for the streamers and bells the students wanted to put on the bikes as well.
The students worked on the bikes in their shops and after school. And they came together across different disciplines for the project.
“They were not just kids from my program,” said Townsend. “That was the neat thing about it. There were a lot of shop kids working together from other programs.”
“I’m learning as I go along,” said sophomore Christina Okuniewicz of North Truro, who is in the plumbing and heating program at Cape Tech. She knows her new skills will come in handy. “It’s been really fun to be able to learn how to fix bikes, because that’s the kind of information you could use in the long run if you needed to fix anything,” she said.
Some of the learning was peer to peer. Reilly-O’Brien said she watched and worried as another plumbing student, Ryan Hollis, started taking a bike apart. “ ‘You know what you’re doing?’ I asked him,” she said. “ ‘Yup,’ he said. And he did.”
Reilly-O’Brien said on Monday that about half of the bikes are nearly ready to be turned over to the Habitat program.
“It’s nice that we’re fixing these up for people who will actually use them,” said Okuniewicz. She said she likes the idea that things that weren’t being used anymore are now getting a new purpose.
Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod President Wendy Cullinan said her group had plenty of families that would love to receive the bikes.
“I think it’s amazing,” Cullinan said of the project, noting Habitat’s appreciation and admiration for the students for reaching out to them.
The timing is right, it seems. “We’re just pouring foundations for six homes in Harwich,” Cullinan said. Families then work with Habitat to help build the homes. “I think it would be great to offer these refurbished bikes to the children of those families,” said Cullinan.