Making the world happier, two wheels at a time
By Lou Fancher
Stephen Stanley remembers how his first boyhood bike, a single-speed red Schwinn, represented “total independence, freedom.”
So, after participating for three years in San Ramon-based Adopt A Family Bikes, which distributes refurbished bikes, Stanley thought to himself, “Why don’t I do it?” He filed nonprofit papers, formed a board of directors and wrote bylaws. “Six months later, Charity Bike Institute had its 501C3 status as a charitable organization,” he recalls.
In the past two years, Charity Bike has fixed and distributed from its Livermore shop 600 repurposed bikes to children, adults, veterans, homeless people and partner organizations that serve people in need.
The organization makes available use of the shop, and Stanley’s bike repair expertise, through outreach bike repair training programs available at no cost to disabled veterans, school groups and Scouts, and to fire and police departments with bike donation projects.
Stanley says he and his family originally moved from their home in Los Angeles to the Bay Area for its lack of traffic and housing affordability. Of course, that was 1980. Stanley bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Walnut Creek near Heather Farm Park for $96,000.
Seven years later, he and his wife Gena moved to Orinda, purchasing a home on a 1-acre lot for $200,000. An eight-year hiatus in Bend, Ore. ended with a return to San Ramon in 2012. “My wife missed the hubbub,” he says about his intrepid always-moving lifestyle.
Even his professional life involved motion: Stimulating young minds as an elementary school teacher, making sales during a marketing career at IBM, and moving wine as the owner of a wholesale company he operated for 25 years. Now, at age 68, he is quasi-retired.
Stanley said an ad he placed on NextDoor and visits to Tri-Valley bike shops netted his first donations. “Now, I get bikes through word-of-mouth, from bike shops when someone brings in a bike that’s too old to fix and donates it, from Boys Team Charity and other groups.”
While running the bike program for the East Bay chapter of Virginia-based nonprofit No One Left Behind, Yvonne Grace crossed paths with Stanley.
“My son and I started a summer program, thinking we’d donate a couple of times. Posting on NextDoor, bikes just flooded in. But they all needed work,” said Grace, a Lafayette resident.
She found a man in Oakland who volunteered to fix them, but transporting the bikes and paying $30 per bike for parts required considerable time and money. “My husband saw an article about Steamer’s organization. I thought, ‘What the heck,’ and called him. Now, he gives me bikes he fixes,” said Grace. “We were paying for parts and driving all over to pick up broken bikes. He delivers them to us and they’re really great bikes. With Charity Bike, we don’t pay a dime.”
With Charity Bikes’ help, Grace and a team of volunteers have distributed nearly 40 bikes to No One Left Behind-supported former Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters who worked for the United States. “One man had to walk five miles to get to BART to get to work. He was so grateful. It changed his life, even though it is just a bike,” she said.
Stanley grew up in the Vietnam era and has never forgotten the reception given to returning veterans. “Our culture, our society, hated them. We didn’t take care of them,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten them. I’m always looking for a way to help them, or to help people who helped us, like the interpreters.”
A partnership with the Veterans First Program at Las Positas College in Livermore, therefore, is one of the most rewarding giving experiences, Stanley said. “What’s a half hour out of my life, if I fix a bike, take a toothbrush and steel wool and make a bike look brand new?” he asks. “I was raised in a community that just helped each other out. I get satisfaction from that.”