Tell me about the mission and vision of Wheels for Winners.
Wheels has been in the Madison community for 27 years as an organization to get bikes into the community and to get people on those bikes. Over the years, we have become increasingly mindful of our obligation to the community and our role within it. Providing bikes to people is important, but only if the people earning the bikes think it important. We have been making an effort to actively engage and be present with the communities we serve in order to be informed by them rather than the other way around. Our central mission is still to refurbish bikes and get them back out to people, but as we move forward we are focusing more on social commitment to ensure our work remains valuable to the community.
Describe Wheels’ model and its significance.
Anyone (though we primarily work with children and children’s bikes) can exchange 15 community service hours for a bike, helmet, lock, and bike registration (for residents of Madison). Things don’t have value unless you value them — engaging with their community in order to earn a bike helps give the bike value. Part of the idea is that hopefully, a kid will work on a garden plot or pick up trash in a neighborhood and then will bike past it and feel a sense of pride and ownership of their community. Biking has immediate, tangible benefits: it is great for your health,obviously it is transportation, and expands the borders of your neighborhood. We hope to help instill a connection between biking and community service from the beginning so that once our earners have their bike and can access more of our shared space, they continue to positively engage with it.
What can we expect from Wheels in the future?
We are adjusting our board model to be more directed by the community. We are continuing to increase our regular presence in the communities we serve–creating personal embedded relationships is a big part of this. We have plans to increase our visibility and maintenance events so that once people have the bikes, they stay in service and the earners can continue to be engaged with us. We are also expanding our shop hours to be more flexible for families.
As we move forward, it is very important to us to be supportive to our communities rather than attempting to drive change. The people in these communities are able to do that themselves, and we want to support that rather than take it over.
How can folks get involved?
If you like the concept of Wheels, the best thing you can do for us is to help transmit our message. Think, really think, about people (particularly children) in your life that would benefit from getting a bike and let them know about us. Maybe even help a child figure out how they can complete their 15 service hours!