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Fixing bikes, helping lives

Entering the bike shed in Geelong, as you step under the large roller door, you will find a work bench to the right, a table and chairs in the front, and about 80 donated bikes in the back. You will find yourself surrounded by bike parts like wheels, baskets, frames, pedals and chains - all somewhat organised by size and style on different shelves throughout the shed.

A child, approximately 10 years old, is here for the first time. Rick, who has been running the shed for 3.5 years, sends him to the back to pick out a bike for himself, that he would like to work on. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

Toni-Maree leans back in her chair, she looks like she is part of the inventory already, but she has only been a volunteer with the program for the past four months. She is a bike enthusiast and loves “the idea of doing something for others,” she says.

“I didn’t think it was as much ‘hands-on’ as it turned out to be, but I actually really love that. I love working one-on-one with the kids, it’s so cool! Watching them learn and seeing the spark in them when they start their own project – it is really rewarding.”

Toni-Maree is 34 years old, lives on the Bellarine Peninsula and works full-time. Her shifts allow her to come into the bike shed every Monday afternoon to spend three hours of her week as a volunteer.

“It has brought me out of my shell. It has made me more confident in how I interact with people. Everyone always assumes I am a confident person, but I am actually not. So, this has been really great for me, personally,” Toni-Maree said.

Rick, who is a seasoned social worker with MacKillop, has embraced the opportunity to get volunteers into his program.

“Including volunteers in this program has increased the capacity to work with more young people – it has improved to a point that some of the young people come in to spend time with the volunteers. And since Toni-Maree has started, we have also had more girls interested in the program than before, which is great,” Rick said.

In the past 3.5 years, Rick and the young people in the program have donated 156 bikes back to the community. Bikes have been donated to people in need in Geelong, Warrnambool, Hamilton and Melbourne.

Every day is a little bit different in the bike shed. Sometimes Rick and Toni-Maree show young people how to fix a bike, and sometimes they just chat or play a game. The aim of the bike shed program is to teach young people new skills in a safe environment and for them to work on their own project from start to finish.

When the young people see their vision come to life, and they experience the reward of their work it helps foster self-esteem and self-trust, and it builds their practical skillset. The bikes in the shed are all donated from the community and then fixed and donated back to people in need, or the young people can choose to keep the bike for themselves.

MacKillop is grateful for the generous support of Give Where You Live Foundation and Smartgroup Foundation who have enabled this program to develop and grow.