Last fall, Shon Jones had a hard time finding a full-time job.
With no car and without public transportation, the Brunswick resident had to walk or rely on friends or family to go anywhere.
Without reliable transportation, he could only work a part time, seasonal position.
“I was pretty much inaccessible,” he said. “I couldn’t rely on a ride and had to work my schedule around people I know who could give me rides. So that limited me in my activities and in looking for a job.”
In December, through Faithworks and Brunswick First United Methodist Church’s Pedal Project ministry, Jones received a bike. That simple gift changed his life.
“It gave me new opportunities,” he said. “It opens doors for me to do what I need and want to do.”
Now, Jones bikes 18 miles every day, to and from his full-time job on Jekyll Island.
“Before I had the bike it was hard; it was a struggle,” he said. “When I got the bike it changed everything. It’s is a reliable source of transportation back and forth; it’s everything I needed.”
Brunswick’s First UMC’s Pedal Project began about a year and a half ago as a way to reach out and meet the needs of the local community. The church partnered with FaithWorks, a nondenominational social services ministry run by UMC pastor Rev. Wright Culpepper, to provide bikes for those who are seeking employment and need transportation.
“Here in Brunswick we don’t have a public transportation system, so there’s a real need for bicycle transportation,” said Hans McCollum, chairman of Brunswick First UMC’s local missions committee. “Like most cities, we have a community of folks who are disenfranchised and living below the poverty level and have real needs.”
The ministry receives donated bikes from individuals and through the Brunswick Exchange Club. A group of faithful, handy men meet each Monday night to refurbish and repair the bicycles, and once they are restored to working order, FaithWorks identifies those in greatest need and distributes them.
In addition to FaithWorks, the Pedal Project has provided bikes to Grace House – a downtown Brunswick recovery home – and the Salvation Army. They also service bikes after they’ve been given away, replacing tubes, adjusting brakes, and getting the bicycles back in working order.
Driving to and from the church, Brunswick First UMC pastor Rev. Jim McIlrath often sees the ministry’s bikes being used.
“Every time I come downtown… I see a bike being ridden,” he said. “I’ve started to recognize them. All of that is made available because people are willing to give.”
The Pedal Project ministry is one of the ways the congregation is reaching out to those in its neighborhood, said Rev. McIlrath.
“Our church is like so many downtown churches – people drive to get here,” he said. “They pass 10 other churches before they get here. So you have to decide if you are going to be in ministry to the people who are in the neighborhoods directly around the church, and this is one little way to be involved and engaged in ministry.”
Jones is thankful for the bike, the people who provided it, and for the things he’s now able to do.
“The bike allows me to be active and to get out and do things. I can get to cookouts and birthday parties and even the beach,” he said. “It’s blessed me a lot.”