Putting the mettle to the pedals

Ladies of Charity ministries now include a bicycle program for those needing transportation

By Bill Brewer

If you’re wondering what to do with that old bicycle that’s taking up space in the garage or rusting out in the yard, the Ladies of Charity have just the solution.

Repurpose it for someone who needs to get around but can’t afford personal or public transportation.

The Ladies of Charity have started an outreach ministry to provide people with very little or no income a way to get around town. If those needing a bicycle will give a few volunteer hours to the social-services ministry, they can receive a fully operational bike at no cost that they can use to possibly get to work or other places they need to reach.

Bicycle specialist George Bronner (green shirt) leads a class on repairing bikes for members of Knights of Columbus Council 645.

All that’s needed are donations of bicycles, preferably in riding condition. But bikes that are in rough condition can either be repaired to be operable or used for spare parts. Thanks to a new team of volunteer bicycle repairmen from Knights of Columbus Council 645, bikes that can be repaired will be ready for the streets.

Susan Unbehaun, executive director of the Ladies of Charity in the Diocese of Knoxville, explained that the bicycle program’s mission is to provide a low-cost transportation alternative for those who need it and to foster a sense of community and fellowship among the program volunteers.

Mrs. Unbehaun added that “cycling is a healthy physical activity, and encouraging the public to take advantage of the many bicycle paths in Knox County is one way we can share our resources.”

The city of Knoxville has been encouraging bicycle riding as an alternative to private and public transportation. The city has even created bicycle lanes along many Knoxville streets to make sure cyclists can safely travel alongside vehicle traffic.

The Ladies of Charity program was conceived in March 2021 with a “what can we do?” brainstorming session with members of Council 645 at Immaculate Conception Church. Between April and October 2021, Ladies of Charity bicycle-repair program volunteers met 26 times to learn how to repair bikes—a total of 342 volunteer hours.

Mrs. Unbehaun noted that recipients from the program must volunteer service hours at the Ladies of Charity before they can receive a bicycle.

Between April and October 2021, there were 31 applications for bicycles and 17 were given out, and the 17 people who received bikes gave 102 volunteer hours to the Ladies of Charity, according to Mrs. Unbehaun.

Council 645 members take notes during the April 19 tutorial on bicycle repair at the Ladies of Charity’s Knoxville facility

In addition, 42 bicycles were sold through the Ladies of Charity Thrift Store to generate funds to purchase bike supplies.

Mrs. Unbehaun relies on Ladies of Charity volunteers, Council 645 members, and a bicycle-repair expert to lead the mobile ministry.

George Bronner is the experienced technician who is educating the bicycle-repair team on the techniques and tools needed to master bike repairs.

“You guys are like a pit crew,” Mr. Bronner told the men volunteering to patch tires, adjust chains, tighten brake wires, and recalibrate gears during an April repair tutorial.

Mr. Bronner has had a passion for bike-riding for much of his life. The 30-year-old technician got back into bike-riding in 2015 while he was living in Phoenix.

“I’ve always been a rider, and I worked at Greenlee’s bicycle shop and received my technical training there. There is no bicycle I’m not trained to work on,” Mr. Bronner said, noting that the Ladies of Charity bicycle-repair program doesn’t work on three-speed internal hub bicycles because they are so outdated.

Mr. Bronner was involved in a similar bicycle-repair program in Phoenix.

“I go for the camaraderie. In my mind it’s more of a bike club than a bicycle class. I enjoy being around people with a common interest,” he said.

Mr. Bronner credited the men from Council 645 for stepping up and taking an interest in the unique ministry. He said some of them have experience while the others are quickly picking up the repair skills.

After taking a break over the winter months, the ministry went back into action in April.

Mrs. Unbehaun said there are plans to move the ministry from inside the Ladies of Charity warehouse at 120 W. Baxter Ave. in Knoxville to a specially designed workshop on the Ladies of Charity site.

The Ladies of Charity are working with Joseph Construction to design a bicycle shop that will allow ease of access for riders and the bike repairmen.

“This program is in its infancy. But you don’t know what it can become,” Mrs. Unbehaun said. “The Knights are excited to see what it is becoming and knowing it’s going to be more permanent.”

Part of the Ladies of Charity facility at 120 W. Baxter Ave. in Knoxville has been set aside to collect bicycle parts and discarded bicycles that are repaired and put back into action.

She noted that many in need of the bicycles can’t afford the cost of bus fare, adding that one of the first users wanted access to the Ladies of Charity to fix his own bike. That’s when Council 645’s Ron Cross first discussed the idea with Mrs. Unbehaun.

“The first year was about teaching our own guys how to fix bikes,” she said.

Troy Cantrell, immediate past Grand Knight of Council 645 and a Ladies of Charity volunteer who is a leader in the bicycle ministry, said the program has been able to get up and running through the donation of bikes from Angelic Ministries, a Ladies of Charity neighbor, and from Greenlee’s, which has provided tools and parts.

“It’s really been an interesting process. We have learned a lot,” Mr. Cantrell said. “Working here, I’ve had people ask me if they can get a bike to get to work.”

“One kid wanted to get a bike to give to his brother. But it’s not just kids who need transportation. One gentleman was in his 40s or 50s,” he added.

The new ministry is among many carried out by the Ladies of Charity and its army of volunteers. Others include emergency assistance, Mary’s Cradle for new mothers and mothers-to-be, food assistance, rent and utility assistance, clothing assistance, medicine assistance, a thrift store, and a Remote Area Medical clinic it hosts annually.

Comments 1

  1. Love this program Susan. My son Alex is the new incoming Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council 645.

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