Nine-year-old Brandon* didn’t have a bike of his own, but when he could, he would borrow a bicycle and ride around the yard. That’s why, when MacKillop Family Services trialled its new bike program in Geelong, Brandon’s foster carers knew that he would be the ideal candidate to take part.
The bike program is the brain child of one of MacKillop’s Residential Care Workers, Rick Bromley. Rick loved tinkering with bikes and cars when he was a teenager and felt that the young people he works with in residential care might enjoy it too. Rick and MacKillop’s Residential Care Coordinator, Meisha Taumoefolau, have long been looking for an opportunity to start a program to teach young kids about bike maintenance and safety and MacKillop secured philanthropic support to run an eight-week program earlier this year.
“The bike program’s success has far surpassed our wildest dreams,” said Meisha. “The children and young people taking part in the program are fully engaged in building their bikes and learning to use the maintenance tools. One young man arrived at the shed where we hold the program, more than an hour before the class was due to begin, so that he could begin working on his bicycle as soon as possible. This was after he had caught an early train and walked from the station.
“The kids work closely with Rick to learn valuable practical skills. Just the other day, Brandon showed me how he could remove and reattach a bicycle wheel, using a fulcrum, and he’s only nine – I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin!”
One of the most innovative aspects of the program is that as well as building a bicycle for themselves to keep, participants also build a bike for someone in the community. Most of the kids take the opportunity to gift a bicycle to a sibling, but one young man made a bicycle for a homeless person, to help make their life easier.
Meisha says that the ability to make something for another person is one of the most valuable outcomes of the program.
“These young people are used to being on the receiving end of donations, so to empower them to make and gift a bicycle to someone else who doesn’t have one has a profound effect on them. They are learning the importance of giving back, developing empathy for others and how good it feels to make someone happy.”
So far, the bike program has received 30 old bicycles, 12 donated from Victoria Police in Barwon and the others from the local community and MacKillop staff. Young people on the bike program can choose the colour and style of the bikes they make. Brandon is so excited about making a bicycle for his older sister.
“My big sister has my Dad’s old bike which is far too big for her. When she gets her own bike, we can ride our bikes together,” Brandon said.
The other upside for Brandon is that now he has his own bicycle, he is out every evening cycling around the property where he stays, and his foster Mum, Melinda*, says that he is much calmer.
“Cycling helps Brandon to focus in the moment and he is noticeably more relaxed when he comes in from playing on his bike. He just loves to be out there and has built a little circuit in the garden. He talks about fixing bikes and what he has learned from Rick all the time, it’s lovely to see the passion he has for working with bikes,” added Melinda.
The bike program has changed Brandon’s outlook and he wants to work with bikes when he is older. But more important than the skills he has picked up is the atmosphere that exists in the bike club.
As Rick says, “Often, some of the kids will linger after we’ve finished and that’s when they will confide in me or ask for advice. Working together and concentrating on the task in hand makes the club a safe environment and we’ve become very close as a group.”
When asked what the best thing about bike club is, Brandon says immediately,
“Being with Rick, he’s gentle and kind and I can ask him anything….and I got to make a bike for my sister.”
*Names changed to protect privacy