Freewheels Houston: Providing bicycles for refugees

Submitted by Bill Mintz

bicycle-35987_640The unprecedented movement of people fleeing civil strife, war, repression and famine in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has captured global attention. Houston is at the center of U.S. efforts to help these families.

Last year, more than 2,000 refugees—men, women and children—arrived in Houston, often with little more than the clothes on their backs. Resettlement agencies provided them with a small cash stipend and the bare necessities to enable them to establish a household.

Houston’s growing economy provides opportunities for employment, even for those who lack English-language skills. Transportation is an immediate challenge: There’s not enough money for a car, and Houston’s public transportation system is often unreliable.

Across the city, there are bicycles in garages that are not being used. Freewheels Houston, a new ministry of Christ the King Lutheran Church, is asking members of the congregation to deliver used bicycles to these industrious new arrivals.

For many refugees, a reliable bicycle could provide tremendous freedom of movement as they make their way in Houston to new jobs, English-language classes, shopping and other destinations.

Refugee Services of Texas (RST) is identifying people among its clients who would benefit from having a bicycle. Sara Kauffman, RST’s Houston director, believes this project will provide practical assistance as well as an avenue to introduce refugees to new people and places in Houston.

On October 18, as part of the Freewheels Houston bicycle donation drive in October, Kauffman will present information about the refugees they assist, the services provided, and what you can do to get involved. Mohamed Mukhtar, Americorps Vista at RST, will share his experience arriving to the U.S. as a child refugee.

Each recipient will receive a helmet, a lock, lights and a flat-tire changing kit. Volunteers from BikeHouston, the city’s bicycle advocacy organization, will help with mechanic services, a safety orientation and route planning. Thrivent’s Southwest Houston Chapter has made a generous grant to support the project.

A special event is being planned for Christ the King Festival Weekend, when the bikes will be given to the refugees and provide an opportunity for members of the congregation to meet the newest Houstonians.

Freewheels will make additional announcements concerning the bicycle donation schedule, fundraising and the special event. If you have questions, please contact Bill Mintz.