Northville, Mich.—Sometimes one simple deed of kindness blossoms into a trail of happiness for hundreds.
Such was the case for Northville resident Beth Beson, who eight years ago listened gingerly to her daughter’s request to help a school friend. Her friend lived at The Children’s Village, a residential care program for boys in Redford run by the Methodist Children’s Home Society. He had a small job, but no transportation, so it was difficult for him to get to work.
“We agreed that he could use a bike for Christmas,” recalls Beson. “But when we realized that his cottage housed ten boys, we decided it wouldn’t be good to just buy one. So, we bought ten bikes.”
Beson believes that cycling helps make a community more connected. “When I get on my bike and ride, I stop and chitchat with my friends because they’re out in the yard. When I ride my bike, I am more open to conversation, to meeting with and chatting with my neighbors.”
When they delivered the bikes to a storage building on campus for safekeeping until Christmas, they found a heap of 50 or so broken down bikes with a pile of parts. Beson loaded up all the bikes and the parts, and set out on a mission to get them repaired. Since The Children’s Village cares for up to 70 boys at any one time on a large campus with multiple cottages, Beson wanted to outfit all of the residents with bikes.
Working with two Northville bike shops, D & D Bicycles and Town & Country Bike and Boards, that discounted tune-ups and repairs, Beson first cleaned the bikes, replaced what she could, like seats, handlebar grips and peddles, and then passed them off to the bike shops to finish the repairs.
Beson still works with The Children’s Village, repairing bikes alongside Town & Country Bike and Boards, and providing refurbished bikes – but now only eight or so at a time since there is a regular supply of working bikes. Last summer, Beson and Continental Bike Shop, which has a mobile unit in its van, went to The Children’s Village to teach the boys how to fix their own bikes and how to ride safely.
“The campus has large circular drive that goes by the cottages and the recreation center, so they can ride around and around. Some kids ride bikes to school or to Driver’s Education training. Some of the kids have small jobs,” says Beson. “Bikes give kids freedom. That’s how it was when I was a kid – having a bike gave me freedom.”
According to Tricia Forgash, a recreational therapist at The Children’s Village, the bikes serve a variety of purposes depending on each boy’s independence level and age, any where from 7 to 18 years old. “For older boys, they have opportunity to go off campus to the library, or to a job, or to school and back. So, it’s a means of transportation in the community for them to get around.”
Forgash says that middle-aged boys like riding around the campus and having bike races. “Through the summer and spring, that’s all you see is boys riding around. We have a large campus, so they have a lot of space to ride.”
For the smallest of boys, these bikes are often their first bikes. “Beth has had to put training wheels on some of the bikes so the littler boys could ride,” says Forgash. She says the bikes contribute to the boys’ treatment and healing in many ways. For some, it’s a way to blow off steam; for others, it boosts their self-esteem. And, it provides a healthy social outlet.
Beson’s bike-refurbishing project has grown. She also works with local nonprofits, including Starfish Family Services in Inkster, Northville Civic Concern, and Mercy Education Project in Detroit, providing bicycles to kids or families that need them.
Meeting children and families is especially rewarding for Beson. “I remember a dad from Starfish Family Services saying ‘I will ride bikes with my kids now.’ I gave him my strongest, best bike, one that could hold his weight. It’s something the family can do together.”
Another offshoot to the bike project has Beson involved with the Salvation Army and the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan. Working through the Salvation Army, Beson takes some of her salvaged, broken down bikes to the prison with parts she has purchased for repair. The inmates have a bike shop; they repair the bikes, and the Salvation Army distributes them to the inmates’ children and families.
“When the inmates work on the bikes, that’s so therapeutic for them to have a project, to know that they’re making a difference,” says Beson.
Beson’s bikes come from a number of sources: from neighbors, who see her outside her garage working on the bikes; from the police station, which gives her unclaimed lost or stolen bikes; from friends who support her work; and from customers of Town & County Bike and Boards, who are told about Beson’s work to find new homes for old bikes.
An avid cyclist herself, Beson believes that cycling helps make a community more connected. “When I get on my bike and ride, I stop and chitchat with my friends because they’re out in the yard. When I ride my bike, I am more open to conversation, to meeting with and chatting with my neighbors.” And it’s that very connection she has brought to the hundreds of kids she has quietly and humbly outfitted.
“The love of biking comes from my childhood. I really loved to bike,” says Beson. “I think that every kid should have a bike to ride.”
To help with this project, you can donate good, used bikes through Town & County Bike at 148 North Center St. in Northville.