Aberdeen Lions Club members and parents worked like Santa Claus’ elves Saturday afternoon in order to bring joy to children on Christmas Day.
The club’s members worked on the finishing touches — tires that weren’t inflated as well as they could be, brakes that were too tight, seats not quite adjusted and other small tweaks — to make sure the bikes from the program “Bicycles from Heaven” were ready for about 30 children and teenagers.
The program brings together the Lions Club, Salvation Army and Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The inmates at Stafford Creek refurbish the bicycles in a bike shop at the prison to near brand-new condition and the Salvation Army processes the parents’ applications so their children can get the bikes.
The parents mostly came by themselves on Saturday to South Aberdeen in order to make their children’s Christmases the best they could be.
Tracy, who was raised in Lake Quinault, was quite happy to bring two bikes home for her kids.
“I think it’s awesome,” Tracy said about the program. “I’m a single mom of two boys. This is the first year I haven’t been able to do much for Christmas. So this is amazing. It’s really going to make my boys’ Christmas.”
Riley Gilbert, 14, was one of the few teenagers who showed. She had a smile from ear to ear as she looked at the different bikes. She picked out a North Carolina Tar Heel-blue bike. The paint job was immaculate and the ride she enjoyed on the bike afterward was a smooth and enjoyable one.
Riley’s mom, Kim Gilbert, stood by as she watched her daughter ride her new bike. Kim thinks the program is fantastic.
“Not only does it give my kid a new bike, but we’re gonna bring her old bikes in and have them recycle (them) so we can give to kids next year,” Kim said. “She has two that she’s outgrown, so trade two-for-one.”
Riley said she thinks the program is cool. And she was clearly a satisfied gift recipient.
“I like it,” she said of her new bike. “It rides smooth.”
Riley said she was excited to show her friends.
“I’ve needed a new bike for a while,” Riley said, still grinning. “They make fun of me (and my old bike) sometimes.”
While there weren’t many children and teenagers who showed up to the event on Saturday, Gene Schermer, who’s worked on the program for about 20 years, said it’s because the parents try to surprise them for Christmas.
“The parents are bringing bikes the kids won’t see until Christmas morning,” Schermer said. “It’s cool.”
Gene started his Christmas elf duties early and gave a few bikes away earlier in the week.
“The three I gave (Friday) night were to a single mom (who had) a teenage girl and two teenage boys,” Schermer said. “She was really appreciative. She had tears in her eyes.”
The hope is to have better attendance in late-Spring 2023, Schermer said, when the Lions Club will have another giveaway.
Kelly Peterson, corrections specialist at Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s Sustainable Prison Programs, said the inmates do a “really good job,” refurbishing the bikes.
“It’s great not just for the community, but it’s good for the inmates who work in the program. They take a lot of pride in it,” Peterson said. “With the guys who work on it, a lot of the inmates feel remorse for what they’ve done, the harm they may have caused, etc. … When they get involved in these types of programs where they have an opportunity to give back to the community, they put a lot of pride and a lot of hard work into it, because to them it’s a form of redemption in the sense they’re giving back to the community.”
Peterson said the fact they get to do this for children who might not have the opportunity to get a bike without such a program, brings satisfaction as well.
“A lot of (the inmates) grew up poor, or came from bad homes,” Peterson said. “That’s one thing you see that’s pretty common with inmates. They have a backstory that brought a lot of trauma in their life, so to have the chance to (work on the bikes), I think they kind of relate that with their own life and what they went through and how much they wanted a bike as a kid. They put their heart and soul into it, and I can’t say enough good things about the program.”
As far as who gets to work on the bikes, the inmates need to meet certain qualifications, such as being on their best behavior.
“They can’t have any infractions where they lose points, which would be like fighting, or other things where you actually lose your ‘good time,’ in prison,” Peterson said. “It is based on your time left in prison (and) your behavior.”
Peterson pointed out how while the bike work is a paid position — they get $55 per month, with some of it going to owed court fees and other fees — they could make more through other jobs at the prison.
“They don’t make much money at all, so they’re definitely not doing it for the money …” Peterson said. “I think it really says something about how much they care about that program that they’re willing to pass up a higher-paid position out there to work on these bikes.”
The end result is a sanded, powder-coated, restored to original condition bicycle, which Peterson said look better than bikes she’s seen in store, resulting in happy parents and children. That’s what “Bicycles from Heaven,” is all about.
Larry Delacruz, the final parent to show up on Saturday, said he loves the program. He was there to pick up a pink Huffy “Sweetheart” bicycle for his 5-year-old daughter. It’s her second bike.
“(Bicycles from Heaven) should be kept around,” said Delacruz, who looked cheerful about being able to get the nice, pink bike for his daughter.
Bob Braden, a former junior high school teacher, was working as the bicycle mechanic. He’s been part of the Lions Club for 10 years. Braden used to work in a bike shop and is quite familiar with making the little, or big, tweaks to them.
“Sometimes, brakes will be too tight,” Braden said. “You don’t want that. You want the kids to enjoy their bikes.”
Braden loves doing what he does for “Bicycles from Heaven,” and he loves seeing the expressions on the faces of the parents and children.