Bike repair training offers skills, pride
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Javier Toro looks forward to walking less. Melanie Toney, a student, wants to help others with her new skill. And Angel Sacta, a truck driver, dreams of one day working as a bike mechanic in his native Ecuador.
The trio is half of the next stage of Workers Without Wheels, a 2-year-old program that provides bicycles to people who need them for transportation to their jobs.
The six trainees meet on Thursday nights at the Congregational Church of Patchogue to learn the basics of bicycle assembly, mechanics and repair. Under the watchful eye of bike enthusiast and hobby mechanic David Santos, the five-week program teaches them an employable skill, and gives each a bike and a toolbox. By the end, the six will have helped to repair dozens of bikes that will be given away May 19.
More than bikes are being repaired, however. The brainchild of the pastor, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, the program began as another way for the church to forge relationships with a community scarred by the death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant stabbed to death in the village in 2008.
The church, which hosted Lucero's funeral, already provided meals, food and clothing to people in need. Then, because public transit services are limited, especially for those who work Sundays, it dawned on Wolter: bicycles. Since the program began in 2010, the church has collected used and new bikes, and given more than 100 to workers.
There's a steely determination in the pastor's voice as he states his church's chief mission: To be useful. Not content with the earlier successful bike giveaway, and armed this year with a $6,580 grant from the Self-Development of People Task Force of the Presbyterian Church (USA), it was time for Workers Without Wheels to "kick it up a notch," he said.
The program gets 100 percent of the money: for the $10-an-hour trainee stipends and to buy bikes at a steep discount, parts, some tools and the take-home toolboxes.
"Give a person a fish, you feed them for a day; teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime. And that kind of generosity that you model for other people will come right back to you," Wolter said.
It's dark and dreary on Main Street in Patchogue one Thursday night in April when the six gather again to work on bikes and hone their skills. Over the weeks, a bond has evolved among six former strangers and their confidence has grown.
"We share everything here," Sacta, 39, of Patchogue, said. "If I don't know how to do it, they help so we're working like brothers and sisters . . . people from different countries, but we are like family here."
Pride in their achievements is evident. "I feel very good about myself, that I have something that I can give back to the community," said Mexican-born Carlos Morales, 32, of Port Jefferson.
Wolter has more ambition for the program. But he needs more bike donations -- medium or adult-sized, in working order -- and cash to pay for the toolboxes, basic equipment and helmets.
Come May 19, from 9 a.m. to noon, the giveaway should again bring joy. "It's very humbling to see someone who has an option to take a new bike choose to take a used one -- to see that graciousness in people who in some case have very little and are responsible and grateful -- is touching," Wolter said. "We're helping people to help themselves, and to help others, and we can all be part of it," he said.