JACKSON TWP. Alex Archer, Nebeyu Tedla and Michael Discenza came together in their senior year at Jackson High School to help others in their community. In return, they received valuable life lessons that they will carry on into their college and career years.
As part of their senior capstone project for their involvement in the Jackson Academy for Global Studies (JAGS) program, they started an organization called Helping Handles. The purpose of the organization was to collect used bicycles, repair them if needed and distribute them to the homeless in Akron with the help of the Jesus Said Ministries.
They started a gofundme page to collect donations to buy parts to repair the bikes. They also scheduled drop off days and locations for people to donate the used bikes. Discenza said that after getting stories in several local newspapers, the turnout for people donating the bikes was amazing.
That turnout and the generosity of people in the community was one of the lessons the three learned. The second lesson they learned is how the bikes made a difference in the lives of those who received a bike.
“The first two collection days, we got about 30 bikes,” Discenza said. “After the story appeared in the local newspapers, we received between 130 and 140 on the third day of collection. We had to cutoff the number of bikes we received because of the time frame needed to repair some of them.”
Tedla added, “We were so surprised and inspired by the number of bikes we received, I feel I’ve learned so much this year which is a real-world application of what we were taught in JAGS.”
The four action items taught in JAGS include investigate the world, recognize perspective, communicate ideas and take action. All three seniors said the focus of their capstone project was to capture and integrate those four actions.
The program requires students to complete a four-course plan including 80 hours of community service, a portfolio and a capstone project. The main goal and action plan of their capstone project in establishing the Helping Handles project was to positively impact the disadvantaged with the tool of transportation.
“Ted at Jesus Said told us that having the bikes will impact the homeless by giving them access to getting health care, food or allowing them to go look for a job or give them transportation to a job. We’ve had a chance to meet some of the people who got bikes and they were so happy and appreciative to know that someone cares about them,” Tedla said.
Discenza and Archer agreed and said it was an amazing experience to see their faces light up when they received the bike.
“A group called Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) inspired us to do this type of project. The way BAP understood how impactful something like owning a bike would be to someone getting access to things like clean water, health care and other transportation needs was inspiring to us,” Dicenza said.
Archer added, “We felt we could positively impact lives locally by providing the tool of transportation by distributing the bikes to those in need.”
Helping Handels’ end goal was to distribute 30 working bikes with a bike lock so the bike wouldn’t get stolen from its owner. The group worked with Jesus Said Ministries to help them distribute 30 bikes with locks to the homeless.
After receiving over 175 bikes from their collection days, the three have worked with a few other organizations to distribute bikes with locks including 20 to the Friends of the Homeless in Tuscarawas County and 25 kids bikes to Inspirational Friends Church in Canton.
The distribution plan was to get all of the bikes that were in good repair distributed first and then work on the others to get them ready. All three have been donating their time, which is tight because they graduate high school in less than month, to repair the remaining bikes.
The gofundme page will remain online until the end of May. They are hoping to raise enough to repair the remaining bikes and buy locks for each. They will donate any leftover monies to the Jesus Said Ministries.
To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/helping-handles. If you have a group of people in need of a bike, contact the group at email@example.com.