Montreal

Townshippers with special needs build bikes, give back to the community

A non-profit organization in Cowansville is not only teaching people with special needs how to build and refurbish bicycles, it’s teaching them about the power of giving.

Free Wheeling uses bike building to empower Townshippers with special needs

Branden Graves (left), Stéphan Marcoux (middle) and John Langlois at the Free Wheeling warehouse in Cowansville. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

A non-profit organization in Cowansville is not only teaching people with special needs how to build and refurbish bicycles, it's teaching them about the power of giving.

That's because the 76 participants in the Free Wheeling program aren't keeping their newly built bicycles. They're giving them out in the community.

"Often times, [our participants] are on the tail end of receiving services," said Stéphan Marcoux, a professional cyclist and the director of Free Wheeling. "But now it's like the helpee being the helper, in a sense."

Free Wheeling's latest stop was the Sunnyside Elementary school in Stanstead. More than 20 bikes were given out to students at the school.

Branden Graves, who is on the autism spectrum, shows off a bicycle he built using donated and refurbished parts. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

'More than a feeling'

Branden Graves, who is on the autism spectrum, says it is rewarding to see children lunge towards the bikes he helped build.

"As the old Boston song goes, 'It's more than a feeling'," Graves said. "I really feel like I'm making a difference."

John Langlois, who has a learning disability, called it a life-changing experience.

"It will make me want to work twice as hard so that the next kids down the road get a more beautiful bike," he said.

Aside from perfecting the craft of bike building, the hard work can also pay off in other ways.

"What this does is it gives them the potential to have employment down the road," Marcoux said.

Graves and Langlois have both received job offers from repair shops in the Townships.

John Langlois refurbishes some old bike chains at the Free Wheeling warehouse in Cowansville. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Bike parts, funding needed

The program has gone from six participants to 76 in less than a year. But Marcoux says Free Wheeling would need a financial boost in order to welcome more people with special needs.

Added funding would help the organization lease more warehouse space and hire more staff.

Most of the Free Wheeling participants are adults. Marcoux takes pride in helping individuals who he says would have otherwise been neglected.

"Once they're 21, there are very little services for these individuals," he said. "So they fall through the cracks and end up being at home and not doing much."

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