Centenary UMC bicycle program gives bikes, jobs, hope


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Ben Braddy’s dentures were sitting on a laboratory shelf, waiting to be picked up. Problem was, he didn’t have the $70 he needed to finish paying for them.

But after fixing seven bikes for the new Centenary Community Bicycle Program, Braddy has a new smile.

Paid $10 for each bike he fixed, Braddy was able to save the money he needed to finally purchase his dentures. The Macon native and former automotive mechanic says that working with his hands is gratifying and rewarding.

“It meant something to me to be able to fix the bikes because I like working with my hands,” said Braddy, who was introduced to the bicycle program through Centenary United Methodist Church’s transitional housing program. “It just meant a lot to me to be able to save that much money. Earning the money working on the bikes gave me a little extra boost.”

A ministry of Macon’s Centenary UMC, the Centenary Community Bicycle Program officially kicked off in April after the church received a grant from the Knight Neighborhood Challenge Fund.

After learning that neighborhood residents had a need for safe, reliable transportation, the church decided that they could help meet that need if they could repair and give away old, unused bikes.

“Centenary wants to be the best neighbor it can possibly be to the community,” said Rev. Stacey Harwell, Centenary UMC’s minister of community building. “One of the issues in our community is the high rate of unemployment and the high rate of poverty. Along with poverty and unemployment comes a lack of access to transportation.”

Many who live in Centenary UMC’s neighborhood don’t have cars, Rev. Harwell said, and the city’s public transportation system isn’t always reliable. Buses don’t run on Sundays, either.

“We had a guy who came to us and told us that if he had a bike, it would make a world of difference in his life,” she said. “He said that if he had a bike he could get to his doctor’s appointments, he could get to his job interviews, and could get places more quickly.”

And with heat indexes topping 100 degrees this summer, getting places more quickly is important.

With the nearly $8,000, year-long grant, the church was able to start the Centenary Community Bicycle Program. With the money, they hired a part-time program manager; purchased old bikes from places like Goodwill and Salvation Army; bought new parts, bike helmets and locks; and are paying people like Braddy and Adam Newby, a Macon resident with developmental disabilities, $10 for each bike they repair. Even with the grant, a lot of the program is still run on donations, Rev. Harwell said.

Before the grant, bikes were donated or purchased and fixed one or two at a time, and there was always more need and demand than the program was able to meet. Some people waited more than a year to receive a bike.

Now, with dedicated space to work in (Mercer University loaned the church the use of a building for one year), a system in place, and staff on board, 78 bikes have been repaired. Of those, 33 have been given away and 45 are on hand at the bike shop waiting to be delivered to their new owners. The goal is to fix and give away at least 100 bikes during the grant cycle, which runs from March 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013.

It costs about $80 to purchase and refurbish a used bike, which includes the program administrator’s salary, the $10 stipend paid to fix the bikes, and bike parts.

“At the end of the day we could have probably bought new bikes for $80, but part of the program was helping folks earn a little income who didn’t have it before, and also for others to learn practical skills,” Rev. Harwell said. “We’re also trying to save bikes from landfills and from being thrown away. This is also about giving folks in our congregation a chance to give other people transportation through their old bikes.”

Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL), a non-profit organization that engages communities of faith in stewardship of God's Creation, took note of Centenary UMC’s efforts and in March awarded the church the Trailblazer Award for innovative Creation care programs.

Centenary UMC’s Community Bicycle Program is just one way the community of faith is reaching out, ministering and helping meet the needs of the community. The idea for the bicycle program was actually brought up at the church’s weekly Sunday morning community breakfast.

The church also has a transitional housing ministry that houses seven homeless men who are trying to get off the streets and find jobs. The program aims to get them to a place of self sufficiency within six months.

 They also have a community garden that provides fresh, organic produce to their unemployed and homeless neighbors. Last year, a children's garden and wheelchair accessible beds to make sure that everyone can participate in sustainable gardening were added.

“Our ministry is always about listening to what’s going on in the community and not doing what we think needs to be done, but doing what we’re told needs to be done,” Rev. Harwell said. “That makes a difference.”

It’s made a difference in Braddy’s life, that’s for sure.

His smile is bigger and brighter. And the formerly homeless and unemployed truck driver who “loves anything with wheels” has found a home at Centenary UMC.

“It’s a special place – it is, it really is.”