Tom Mayhew spins the rear tire of a bicycle secured firmly on a repair rack.
The rotations cause a grinding noise. Mayhew, tools in hand, examines the derailleur and makes a slight adjustment. The next tire spin is smooth and steady. The bicycle is ready for the road, ready to provide a means of travel and more independence to a homeless person in the city.
Spokes 4 Hope, a bicycle repair program in cooperation with St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay is back in service. The program, which was started in the St. John the Evangelist Church rectory garage last September, was shut down during the winter months and has since reopened in a space in the rectory basement. Spokes 4 Hope grew out of a conversation between Tony Pichler and Paula Rieder, members of the ministry team at the homeless shelter.
"Many times for people on the streets, bikes are their primary mode of transportation. A year and a half ago, we were talking about how many bikes were sitting in the racks here at St. John's in disrepair," said Pichler, co-director of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in De Pere. "What would it take to get a bike repair program started? How can we get those bikes back in good repair and give people back the mobility that they need?"
The program got off to a good start, in part through a generous donation.
"I met a woman named Donna Marie. I don't even know her last name," explained Rieder, coordinator of pastoral ministry at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh. "She said, 'I have some bikes, can you use them?' ... She volunteered at EAA (the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh). They told her that she could have the bikes, so she was storing them."
"We inherited about 20 bikes to give to people and had these bikes that we were repairing," Pichler told The Compass, newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese. "We opened Sept. 15. Between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15, we fixed 127 bikes."
Pichler met Mayhew at the shelter and found a lead bicycle mechanic. Mayhew grew up in Allouez fixing bikes in the family garage.
"I remember Tom telling me, 'The bike I'm riding now is a combination of three bikes I put together,'" Pichler said. "We've had at least four or five guys who have been helped by the shelter who have been our mechanics."
Mayhew, a second-generation dentist, fell on hard times. He practiced in Green Bay before semi-retiring and moving to Door County. His practice took on a number of Medicaid patients which contributed to the downfall of the business, he said.
"When the practice went under, the bankruptcy court took everything," said Mayhew. "I was at the shelter for a while trying to regroup. That's why I am such a big supporter of the shelter. It was a great place to live with a very supportive staff. Now I can go in and help counsel people during meals."
Repairing bicycles is another way to give back.
"This gets me out of the house," Mayhew said. "Now, I fix a lot of the (models of) bikes I once owned. I ride between five and 10 miles a day. With the practice going under, I cannot afford a car."
Brakes and tires are the most common repairs followed by derailleurs, seats and kickstands.
"We lube everything," Pichler said. "It's hard on a bike when it's sits out in the rain or sits out all winter."
The Norbertines provided a grant for the program, which was used to purchase equipment. Rebecca Cleveland and David DeKeyser, owners of the Bike Hub in De Pere, have served as valuable resources, including ordering tools and the work stand.
When the program began, Spokes 4 Hope distributed the bicycles. Now, the case managers at the shelter work with guests who need bikes. Recipients are responsible for getting a bicycle license from the city.
Mike Dockry, a member of the shelter ministry team who is also on the board of trustees, assists the program. Bicycles improve the quality of life for many of the shelter guests, he said.
"It's one thing to be homeless," he said, "but then another issue when you find a job and have to figure out how to get there. What happens when the bus doesn't run at that time? It gives them a lot more independence. Jobs are so important for self-worth and make them feel much better about themselves."
"I was going to the New Community Shelter to drop something off. We had fixed this guy's bike and I remembered his face," Pichler said. "There he was riding near the corner of Walnut and Broadway and he had a nice grin. This guy was so happy to have regained his mobility. He had his bike to help him get around town. That's what this is all about."