How Can’d Aid advocacy pivoted to keep building bikes during a time of social distancing

The coronavirus upended Can'd Aid's signature volunteer bike builds. But that hasn't stopped the nonprofit from getting bikes to the kids that need them most.

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In his 20+ years as a professional freeride and trials mountain biker, Jeff Lenosky got used to performing stunts on a bike to a room full of rapt schoolchildren. Now, as an ambassador for Treads and Trails, an initiative of the philanthropic organization Can’d Aid, Lenosky isn’t just getting applause for his bunny hops and track stands. Kids are clapping because he gets to tell them they’re going home with a new bike.

“I’m still doing demos, but now there’s a literal takeaway at the end [of the program] for all these kids,” he said. “After any demo, I’d always say, ‘Well, I hope I excited these people and made them wanna go ride bikes,’ and now we’re actually giving them the tool to go and to do it.”

Lenosky gets kids stoked to get on bikes. Photo: Courtesy Can’d Aid

Through Can’d Aid’s Treads and Trails program, volunteers have built and donated over 4,000 to kids in need across the United States. Volunteers form the core of the program; they get together at brewpubs or office buildings and assemble bikes, and then they — and sometimes Lenosky — get to watch kids shriek and holler when they see their new bikes rolled into the school gymnasium. But, when the doors of places like brewpubs, offices, and school gymnasiums suddenly shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, the folks at Can’d Aid had to figure out another way to keep with Treads and Trails’ mission of getting kids off of screens and onto bikes.

“From onset of COVID, we tried to come up with things we thought were still consistent with our mission and program areas but adapted to new rules and regulations,” said Diana Ralston, executive director of Can’d Aid.

Building bikes in the COVID age. Photo: Courtesy Can’d Aid

When it was founded in 2013 after a thousand-year flood-devastated communities along Colorado’s Front Range, Can’d Aid first focused on disaster relief primarily in the form of donations of canned water (hence ‘canned aid’ ). Since then, it has expanded the ways in which volunteers can help their communities; providing underprivileged kids with skateboards and bikes through Treads and Trails is one of them.

“The model was to gather community members or corporations in big groups and build bikes or skateboards and then invite the people who helped build them to the school to see the kids get the bike or ‘board and helmet,” Ralston said, “So, now we’ve created a spin-off — ‘Do-Goodery at your Doorstep.’”

So, how can people get involved with Can’d Aid’s ‘Do-Goodery at your Doorstep’ programs? Rather than hosting large-scale bike and board builds at community gathering spaces, Can’d Aid will bring the project to the interested party. Ralston says that the projects are perfect for businesses or other groups like cycling clubs who want to do something charitable but who don’t necessarily have the ability to organize an event. Can’d Aid will ship all of the necessary materials, groups can work safely and at a distance, and then Can’d Aid will coordinate the donation of the ‘boards or bikes.

Never built a bike? Lenosky provides the know-how.

“A lot of people are overwhelmed by it,” he said, “But I always joke when I go to the builds. ‘How many people have built a bike?’ A small percentage raise hands. ‘How many have built IKEA furniture?’ Everyone raises their hands. ‘Then you’re overqualified!’”

Although the pivot to Do-Goodery at your Doorstep has been logistically challenging, Ralston says that the new model is working. Last month, employees from Nashville-based marketing agency Fuoco successfully built and donated bikes to local children in the foster care system. In August, employees at medical device maker Medtronic’s Boulder campus will build 1,500 skateboards by working in groups of ten over one week. In Houston, Can’d Aid is using a drive-through concept so that people can pick up the materials to build skateboards and then drop them off once they’re completed.

Employees at Fuoco, a marketing agency in Nashville, practice socially-distant bike building. Photo: Courtesy Can’d Aid

Without school in session for donations, Can’d Aid has partnered with Royal Family KIDS to help distribute the bikes and ‘boards to kids in need. Royal Family KIDS provides programming to kids in the foster care system in an effort to interrupt the cycles of neglect and abuse that so often plague them. For many foster kids, school is the only stable place they know; without classes right now, the risks are even higher.

“Making a major difference in a foster child’s life, many of whom have been adversely affected by stay-at-home measures, is our number one priority during these difficult times,” said Paul Martin, CEO of Royal Family KIDS. “We’re proud to be able to provide a healthy, creative and active outlet for a child in foster care through Can’d Aid’s Do-Goodery program.”

The coronavirus pandemic may make it harder to perform acts of ‘do-goodery’ by conventional means, but Can’d Aid’s Do-Goodery at your Doorstep provides a pathway — and the bikes to ride it on.

Completed bikes from the Fuoco build in Nashville. Photo: Courtesy Can’d Aid

Find out more about this program on the Can’d Aid web site.

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