Southwest Wake News

With bikes, Cary group paves the way for youth-police friendship

Mike Farnsworth, a volunteer from Apex, aligns a bike tire in an Apex storage warehouse on Jan. 10 as Al Slonim, who leads the Cary group Citizens Assisting Police, looks on.
Mike Farnsworth, a volunteer from Apex, aligns a bike tire in an Apex storage warehouse on Jan. 10 as Al Slonim, who leads the Cary group Citizens Assisting Police, looks on. aspecht@newsobserver.com

Most of them had little to no professional experience in fixing bicycles.

One man is a pension analyst.

One woman runs her own IT firm.

A couple of men are retired mechanics.

In terms of their bike expertise, they’re really just a bunch of spare parts. But together, they’re part of a rotating group of volunteers that has refurbished hundreds of bikes over the past eight years to donate to underprivileged children and needy adults.

“We get volunteers from all walks of life,” said Al Slonim, a volunteer with Cary Citizens Assisting Police, a group of about 130 Cary Police Academy graduates that occasionally helps the Cary Police Department at public events, traffic control and sobriety checkpoints.

With assistance from some non-CAP members, the group has collected, fixed and donated more than 2,000 bikes since the refurbishing efforts’ inception eight years ago, Slonim said. Most recently, Cary police gave away 20 of the CAP-fixed bikes at the town’s Three Kings Day celebration.

“Every kid should have a bicycle,” said volunteer Mike Farnsworth, a pension analyst from Apex who’s not affiliated with CAP.

Volunteers work in a storage warehouse off U.S. 64 where space is at a premium and rent is only $1, Slonim said. Dozens of bikes lean against a separating wall in the middle of the front office. Spare tires hang from hooks on the back wall and in the closet, while extra pedals, tubes and rims are kept in boxes and buckets.

The group collects bikes and parts from wherever they can get them – mostly local churches, home owners’ associations, bike shops and police departments. Volunteers meet once a month to work on the bikes for about six hours at a small storage warehouse in Apex.

Each refurbished bike is washed and then adorned with a small sticker bearing the logo of the Cary Police Department.

The hope is that kids who receive a free bike from the police department gain respect for law enforcement, and are then less likely to break the law, Slonim said.

“Then, because they’re not chasing down these kids for petty stuff, police have time for more important things,” he said.

In the wake of recent, highly publicized instances of strained police relations across the country, “encouraging a positive image and relationship (with police officers) is needed now more than ever,” he said.

Volunteers rely on local churches, community groups and the police departments to distribute the bicycles, Slonim said.

“They know who needs them better than we do,” he said.

On a recent Saturday, none of the volunteers could remember meeting a child who had received one of their bikes. And they were fine with that.

Tom Broyles-Lewis, a volunteer, said they don’t do the work for the recognition. He is the general manager of Cycling Spoken Here shop in Cary, which donates used bikes for the project.

“(Kids) are getting outside, getting active, staying safe and having fun,” he said. “That’s what matters.”

Cary police Capt. Don Hamilton has experienced several special moments when giving bikes to needy kids. He said he’s done it about a dozen times.

“I’ve called up Bike Guy Al on the weekend and said, ‘Hey, I know a 12-year-old kid who’s about 5 feet tall’ ... and (the group) will have something for me by Monday,” Hamilton said.

“There are thousands in the Cary-Raleigh area who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “It’s humbling to see families in that much need and be able to help out in a small way.”

Tinkering away

The project started eight years ago with 19 bikes that Cary police didn’t know what to do with, Slonim said. He and three others fixed 15 of them and didn’t want to stop.

“It mushroomed from there,” Slonim said.

The group has fixed nearly 100 bikes that were taken to Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, Slonim said.

And it seems everyone – from kids to police to the volunteers themselves – benefits from the experience.

Farnsworth, the pension analyst, likes that the group gives him a chance to work with his hands and help others.

“I just like tinkering,” the 45-year-old said. “It’s kind of like a Zen thing or something. To me, it’s easy. So it’s relaxing.”

John Harris, a retired factory mechanic, likes teaching others how to fix the bikes. The 74-year-old has been doing it since he was a boy in Yorkshire, England.

“What I’m doing now is pretty much what I’ve been doing all my life ... since back when 10-speeds were the things,” he said.

Along with 70-year-old Jim Maisch, another volunteer and retired mechanic, “we must’ve taught 200 folks,” Harris said. “I get pleasure out of teaching.”

Jyothsna Kasu, who was scrubbing bike tires in the warehouse hallway on a recent Saturday, said her reason for volunteering was simple.

“It’s a noble thing to do,” said Kasu, a 40-year-old who works as director of the IT firm, Ortus LLC.

“If you want to help, you have to get your hands dirty at some point,” she said.

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