Tucson regularly ranks as one of the best cities in the nation for cycling, but some local children aren’t able to appreciate the joy of a bike. However, one local nonprofit has worked for more than a decade to refurbish and donate bikes to kids in need. Last month, Wheels for Kids celebrated their 4,000th bike donated, and don’t see an end in sight to the deliveries.
“It would be hard to count all the thank yous and hugs we’ve received from kids and nonprofits,” said Tom Terfehr, president of Wheels for Kids. “Often there are tears, and sometimes there’s even tears from donors who are sad to see their bike go, but happy to make sure it’s going to a good cause.”
Terfehr has volunteered with Wheels for Kids for seven years. As with many of their volunteers, Terfehr became involved when he was looking for ways to give back to the community during retirement. He connected with the nonprofit’s founder, Dick Swain, and learned about bike repair.
“As the saying goes, one thing led to another,” Terfehr said. “I started as a mechanic. Next thing you know, I was picking up bikes, and then I was on the board of directors, and then I was the president… Dick really had a vision, and we still do, and that’s to put a smile on the face of a kid who might otherwise never experience the joy of riding a bike.”
Wheels for Kids’ process begins with donors offering bikes to the nonprofit. The bikes range from nearly new to well-worn, and come from anywhere between SaddleBrooke and Green Valley. Wheels for Kids’ pickup team collects the bikes and stores them on a property offered by Sun City. Then, the nonprofit’s 25 mechanics work out of their garages to refurbish the bikes.
“We have a 20-foot container that is filled with bike parts and components. Everything from tubes to tires to spokes to rims to handlebars. And that inventory will rival any bike shop,” Terfehr said. “Our objective is to have that bike looking better than when it left the factory when we donate it to a kid.”
The refurbishing always ends with a fresh coat of wax for an extra shine. Then, the Wheels for Kids outreach team (led by Tom’s wife, Lisa) works with more than 30 local nonprofits to find the right home for the bike. Wheels for Kids has donated bikes to Aviva Family and Children’s Services, Casa de los Niños, Boys & Girls Club, Refugee and Immigration Services and more. In total, Wheels for Kids has a network of roughly 40 volunteers, most of whom are also members of the Vistoso Cyclists.
“We consider ourselves to be in the recycling business as well as the business of giving bikes to kids,” Terfehr said.
Terfehr estimates the nonprofit spends roughly $15,000 per year on parts. They also give away a helmet and lock with each bike, to promote safety for the kids.
“The children are absolutely thrilled to receive a ‘new’ bike,” said Grace Stocksdale, executive director of the nonprofit More Than a Bed, which receives dozens of bikes annually. “Every bike that we get from Wheels is absolutely great quality, looks like a new bike. Some are vintage, some are dirt bikes, and some appear to be racing bikes, just in beautiful
More Than a Bed provides essential items to foster, kinship and adoptive families. Since 2014, More Than a Bed has helped more than 2,000 foster children receive necessary items in their goal of giving every child a safe place to call home.
“Wheels has been such a blessing to [More Than a Bed] and the children we serve,” Stocksdale said. “Nothing but praises and gratitude for the
Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson has also received dozens of bikes from Wheels for Kids, which are then distributed between all six of their area clubhouses.
“It’s always super exciting when the kids get their bikes,” said Melissa Hanson Royer, director of marketing and communications for Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. “Sometimes it will be during special times of the year, like during the holidays… Some of them may have had a bike that was too small for them, so it’s always nice to see them with a new bike that actually fits them. Some of the kids even learn how to ride bikes and about bike safety thanks to the donations.”
In addition to celebrating their 4,000th bike, Wheels for Kids is also using the milestone as a thank you to the hard work and dedication of their
Terfehr even recalls some creative ways volunteers continued to help during the pandemic. In one instance, a senior citizen at a retirement community wanted to help but wasn’t able to interact with visitors. To circumvent this, Terfehr says they organized a “clandestine” drop-off and pick-up process where the volunteer was still able to repair the bikes without getting too close to others.
“The point being, that’s the kind of dedication our mechanics and volunteers have. They’re all retirees who can do any number of things, and they choose to do this. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the community,” Terfehr said. “It’s wonderful to donate 4,000 bikes. That’s 4,000 smiles that weren’t there before.”
For more information, and to donate your own bike to Wheels for Kids, visit VistosoCyclists.