Published on May 30, 2017 – Melanie Tucker, The Daily Times
When Dewayne and Leigh Wilson stood in their driveway in Townsend a little over two years ago with a dream of providing bicycles to children and youth who didn’t have one, they had eight used bicycles in a small shed but a whole lot of drive.
This husband and wife team started the Bike Elf, a nonprofit that takes in gently used bicycles and then gifts them to children and young adults who earn them. They work with the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County and just recently partnered up with the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains in Sevierville. Children who come to these facilities earn bikes with good grades, perfect attendance, reading advancement and good behavior.
In addition, a partnership has formed between Bike Elf and Wesley House Community Center in the Lonsdale Community in Knoxville.
Dewayne is Bike Elf’s president, the one who saw names on an Angel Tree at Christmastime 2014 and decided he would do all he could to see that no child who wanted a bike had to do without.
“I spent my entire childhood on my bike,” he said. “From dawn to dusk, especially in the summertime. I have no idea how many miles I put on it.”
Several bikes have been donated so far, but Leigh and Dewayne said what they need right now is monetary donations so they can purchase tools necessary for repairs, bike stands and parts. They recently entered a national video contest through Selective Insurance Companies of America. The public voted on their favorites, and Bike Elf came in third place, winning $1,000. They were presented the check last week.
It was perfect timing, Leigh said. She is secretary for Bike Elf and handles marketing. She has launched Bike Elf Stories on their website.
The first one is a video of brothers Phillip and Josiah Tucker. They both earned bikes through their work at the BGCBC. The video shows their dad talking about the program and then the elation on the faces of his sons as they run up to accept the bikes.
“BIke Elf Stories is about Bike Elf donors and volunteers and recipients and the bikes they donated, refurbished and received,” Leigh said. “It is all about something bigger than yourself.”
She said they have tons of photos taken when donors come to their bike drives to donate bikes they no longer want. There are pictures of volunteers who come into the Bike Elf bike shop and repair and clean them up. They have those celebratory photos of the children as they put their hands on the shiny bikes for the very first time. Many of those photos will now be condensed into stories to share as Bike Elf Stories.
Getting the word out
With a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, this nonprofit is hoping to share its story with all who might be interested in coming along to help make a difference.
The Wilsons started with those eight bikes in a shed and then ran out of room so they converted a room in their basement into a bike shop. They outgrew that. Today, the BGCBC has allowed them to set up shop in the upper level of Fort Craig School in Maryville, which is where this Boys and Girls Club is also housed.
Go upstairs and there are three rooms full of bikes. The process of getting a bike from donor to recipient has been streamlined so the Wilsons and their volunteer board can know at any given time how many bikes are in their possession and what stage of completion they are in. Each is tagged and given a number and placed into a data base.
On work days, volunteers usually spend five hours getting the donated bikes into shape. The shop is stocked with tires of all sizes, tubes, seats, pedals and brakes. The workers are treated to lunch by Leigh and Bike Elf.
The biggest donation of bikes came in January 2016, Dewayne said. “We got 140 bikes in three hours.” That was two weeks after Christmas, he said. Children had gotten new bikes so Bike Elf got their old ones.
It’s been fun, these two said, to talk with the families who end up giving bicycles to the Bike Elf.
“There are some cool donor stories,” Leigh said. “Everybody has a story about the bike (being donated) and their first bike.”
Campaign moving forward
Momentum has been created with this national competition and third place showing. Leigh said she wants to push it forward with this current Bike Elf Stories campaign and fundraising. She said it costs about $50 to gift each bike.
Sometimes they receive bikes that are too worn or rusted to give away. But these are taken and recycled and the money earned put back into the program. Usable parts are also salvaged.
Every now and then, bikes also come in that look barely used. They might have been only ridden on the driveway.
“Others come in mud-caked and scuffed up and the kickstand was never used,” Leigh said. They will take them all.
One of Dewayne’s favorite Bike Elf Stories is about three bikes he and Leigh went all the way to Sevierville to pick up. The man who called to donate them said they were in a barn. The Wilsons pictured old bikes encased in cobwebs.
They got a shock when they saw them — awesome little dirt bikes that had been ridden by the man’s granddaughters. Leigh and Dewayne brought the bikes to the Bike Elf bike shop, gave them some tender care and at least one of them has already been gifted to a grateful little girl.
There are so many stories to tell, the husband and wife said. They want to share what they see behind the scenes. Many times people will donate to a cause and never really know the impact they have. Not so with Bike Elf. Bicycle donors will even be invited to the giveaway ceremonies that feature the bikes they graciously gave.
The next bike drive will be held June 10 at the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County. The Wilsons are hoping for another good turnout. There seems to be a good supply of gently used bikes that people are happy to turn loose of.