Zac See, owner of Breakaway Bike shop in Peru, works on bikes that were found by the police and not claimed. The bicycles are then given to those who need transportation through Life Cycle, the first program of its kind in the state. Staff photo by Tim Bath
She said one of the biggest obstacles for people with mental health issues is one most people take for granted – having a car to go places. That’s an especially big problem in Peru, where the only form of public transportation is on-call transit buses operated by the YMCA.
But in Peru, you can get just about anywhere in town in 15 minutes or less on a bike.
“It really empowers those people who have a suspended license or can’t drive because of medical reasons,” Sawyer said.
She said she got the idea through her work with the Howard County Department of Child Services. One of her clients always had to bum rides from people to get to therapy sessions and supervised visits. But one day, she stopped asking for rides.
Why? Sawyer found out she had gotten a bike that had been confiscated by the Howard County Sheriff’s Department. The client’s grandpa fixed it up for her, and, just like that, she had a way to get to her appointments.
“I said, ‘Wow, that’s actually a great idea,’” Sawyer said.
So she approached Peru Police Chief Mike Meeks to see if there was a way to do the same thing, but make it a city-sanctioned program.
Meeks said when he heard to proposal, he was instantly on board.
“I thought it was an outstanding idea,” he said. “It seemed like a great idea to recycle these bikes and get them to people who need them.”
And the police department had a lot of bikes to give. Meeks said officers on average confiscate or find close to 100 stolen or abandoned bicycles a year.
Those bikes go into a storage building, where they’re held for 60 days for the owners to claim. But that rarely happens. Instead, the police department ends up sitting on hundreds of unclaimed bikes.
“It’s a relief for us to get rid of them, because we don’t have the constant stockpile of bikes sitting in storage,” Meeks said.
Now, unclaimed bikes head over to Breakaway Bike Shop in Peru, where General Manager Zac See volunteers his time and talent to fix them up into a road-worthy two-wheeler.
See said when Sawyer approached him to ask if he would consider donating his time to fix bikes for the outreach, he was all for it.
After all, See said, he could empathize with the goal of the program. He said when he was in his early 20s, he struggled with alcohol and ended up losing his license for a short time, forcing him to get rides from family and friends.
Now, as a bike expert and business owner, See is more than willing to help out people who might be down on their luck or struggling with substance abuse.
“Whether they are recovering addicts or alcoholic or fresh out of jail, they don’t have the luxury of transportation,” he said. “You got to give something back, I think, just for your own sanity and for the benefit of those around you. It helps them out and helps me remain thankful and grateful for how good I have it.”
Once the bikes are road-ready, See takes them over to Main Street United Methodist Church, where Pastor Lauren Hall oversees their distribution to residents.
The church is open every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. for people to stop by for a bike. Residents can also call to schedule an appointment to pick one up at any time.
Sawyer said anyone who wants a free bike has to bring some kind of identification showing they live in Miami County, as well as a short referral letter from someone who isn’t a family member or a friend explaining how a bike would benefit them.
Everyone who receives a bike is entered into Charity Tracker, an online application used to gather, share and report statistical data for resource development, strategic planning and measuring outcomes.
Sawyer said that information will help determine how to better expand the outreach in the future. It also allows providers to follow up with people who might need other services after they come pick up a bike.
Although Life Cycle is just over six-months old, it’s already become a success story, Sawyer said. Now, she’s trying to get other cities and towns to adopt similar programs to help meet the needs of their community.
“In five years, if I had a dream, I’d love to see this in any county that is rural and has a lack of transportation,” Sawyer said. “I could die happy if I could see this all over Indiana. It’s healthy, it’s cheap and it can change lives.”
She said in the end, she isn’t surprised the outreach has taken off. She said there was an obvious need for alternate transportation options for people with mental-health or substance-abuse issues, and the free-bike program is meeting that need.
“You’re really giving them more than a bicycle,” Sawyer said. “You’re giving them hope. You’re empowering them. It’s been a ripple affect across this community that’s been really positive.”