Courtesy: Chip Colandreo at Altamonte-Wekiva Springs Life Magazine
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV.
At the age of 12, Russ Durham learned to fix bicycles. Soon, he was fixing bikes for children around the neighborhood. It became a hobby or perhaps a challenge to fix any bike.
Years flew by, and the fix-it bike boy became a full-time music teacher, presently at Orlando Junior Academy, Orlando, Florida. His expertise with elementary school choirs became legendary. His group’s annual performances included Orlando Magic basketball games. Yet, he still found time to volunteer.
While helping to serve food at Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando, he noticed broken-down bikes languishing around the perimeter of the compound in various stages of disrepair. Durham went home, put together several bikes from parts in his workshop, and gave them to shelter volunteers for distribution. Every bike was snapped up immediately.
“Giving a homeless person a bike is often the difference of them being able to hold down a job,” says full-time volunteer Rowland Kenna. “A bike offers freedom, independence, and dignity to go when and where the owner chooses.”
Durham soon realized a need for helping the men repair bikes they already owned, because work done at a bike shop is expensive. He scheduled a day when he took his van, full of parts and tools, to the Coalition for the Homeless shelter, and found a line of guys waiting for him. This repair day became the first of four held each year.
Soon, the team of volunteer helpers needed more than power equipment run by an air compressor to meet the demand, so each was given an assistant. From dawn to dusk, volunteers were amazed as they observed the men who waited patiently for a turn to see “Mr. Russ, the Bike Man.”
On the most recent repair day, 13 volunteers fixed or replaced 86 bikes. A homeless woman came around 10 a.m., and received a number for a position in the line. She patiently waited all day for her number to be called until it was finally reached after 6 p.m. One of the helpers took her a sandwich and something to drink, and she was extremely appreciative during her long wait.
If a bike needs a lengthy repair, it will be replaced with a reconditioned bike to save time. Tires and brakes are the first things checked. Safety is a huge issue, as many of the bikes brought for repair do not have brakes. The men often endeavor to stop by dragging their feet or by wedging their foot between the tire and the frame. These methods of stopping are tough on feet. More importantly, they make it nearly impossible to stop quickly, resulting in a higher chance of hitting a car or pedestrian. In addition to needed repairs, all bikes leave with a total brake package, lights, and a lock.
At 6ʹ2ʺ, Thomas Green had trouble finding a bike that would fit his lanky frame. Durham customized Green’s bike so that he would not have to bend over to ride. This personalized service has created a trust on the part of the homeless. They consider the Bike Man their personal friend.
This hobby of Russ Durham, with the help of his neighbor, Rowland Kenna, morphed into its own charity, 7th-day ReCYCLEry, and developed a formal mission statement, “A ministry of Markham Woods Church, dedicated to providing free rebuilt bicycles to those in need.”
Bikes are donated by individuals. Stores offer bikes damaged in transit and used bikes left behind when new bikes are purchased by their customers. Kenna is kept busy picking up bikes, and repairing them during the week in his garage. He works with Durham in his workshop on the weekends. In 2016, this ministry donated 672 bikes to not only the Coalition for the Homeless, but to 17 other local charities as well. The 7th-day ReCYCLEry ministry is also working with Forest Lake Church’s Gift and Thrift store, and 15 bike shops.
Word of mouth has spread this great story which has gained the attention of TV news, the Orlando Sentinel, Facebook, and Life magazines of various communities. Durham was honored at a Florida Hospital Thanksgiving program, received WKMG Channel 6’s Getting Results Award, and was recently given Central Florida News 13’s Everyday Hero Award.
Durham not only found his niche for helping the homeless, he also drew in others to assist him. A new addition is Paul McGlone, who walked by Rowland’s house and wanted to know why he had so many bikes (currently 157) under tarps in the driveway.
“There is so much frustration, hatred, and anger in people in our large cities about not being given a fair shake,” says Durham. “What a different world it would be if we used our talents to help alleviate needs while showing that homeless lives matter.”
For more information, please visit 7thdayrecyclery.com.
Gladys Neigel is editorial assistant in the Communication Department at Florida Conference in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
Florida | May 2017