Paul Jalbert shows off the bike he received as part of the Shifting Gears program

Shifting into the right gear

A group is setting the wheels in motion for a new program that pairs bikes with locals transitioning out of homelessness with bikes.

A group is setting the wheels in motion for a new program that pairs bikes with locals transitioning out of homelessness and addictions with bikes.

Shifting Gears is a community based program that pairs people from Anawim House, a transitional shelter that provides meals, laundry and shower services, with a refurbished bike, lock, helmet and bike safety information.

The project is part of Leadership Victoria’s eight-month community leadership development program, in which participants develop a project that has a positive impact on the community.

Group members Jeanine Reemst, Alicea Praeker, Holly Courtright, Jeff Butcher and Ronda Watson decided to focus on what they believe are the main components of Victoria — being a bike-friendly city, green, promoting biking as a means of transportation, and using biking as a way for stress and mental health release — and incorporating those elements into a program.

In October, Shifting Gears was born.

Since then, the group has collected more than a dozen gently-used bikes of all styles and sizes, mostly from friends and family members, with the end goal of collecting 25 bikes and pairing them with the right rider.

“A lot of people can’t afford bus tickets and bus passes,” Reemst said. “When you’ve lost everything and you’ve come back from an addiction or some sort of traumatic event, you’ve stepped out of homelessness and you’re taking steps to be a part of the inclusive community, owning something is a pretty big deal.”

Reemst said it’s been an incredibly emotional experience for some of the 16 people they’ve paired with bikes. Some people are overwhelmed by the generosity, while others are suspicious there are no strings attached.

There is an application process for riders to make sure they have a safe place to lock their bikes so they’re not stolen, and are used properly.

Rob Hurst, manager of Anawim House, said the program has had a profound affect on people. One individual rides to and from the shelter daily to access meals, counselling and employment services, all with a smile on their face.

“Everybody has got that desire to get transportation. People want to be part of a community. People want to get around from place to place in order to be a part of that community and I think that instills a sense of pride and dignity about how they get around,” said Hurst, adding they’ve had roughly 60 applications so far. “It is a big deal to provide transportation and help somebody who’s in need and looking for work.”

While some group members will be completing the program shortly, Reemst hopes Shifting Gears will continue in the future.

The group is also looking for people to donate bikes, bike parts such as tires, tubes, seats and handlebars, as well as monetary donations, which allows them to purchase parts for the bikes.

For more information visit the Facebook Page “Shifting Gears 2016” or email shifting.gears.project@gmail.com.