Friendship Circle pays it forward with bike giveaway

$1 million needed to give away 600 special-needs bicycles

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 16, 2016

 This year, Friendship Circle hopes to increase the number of adaptive bikes for the Great Bike Giveaway from 145 bikes to 600. To do so, the organization must raise $1 million.

This year, Friendship Circle hopes to increase the number of adaptive bikes for the Great Bike Giveaway from 145 bikes to 600. To do so, the organization must raise $1 million.

Photo provided by Friendship Circle

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Riding a bike can give a child a sense of freedom, but not all children have the luxury of experiencing that feeling.  

While most kids get the chance to hop on a bicycle in their early years, unless the bike is adaptable, children with special needs may miss out on the adventure. 

Five years ago, Friendship Circle began the Great Bike Giveaway, which is a national contest to deliver adaptive bicycles to children and young adults with special needs. Each bicycle is made to accommodate the winner’s abilities. The first year the organization held the contest, it gave away 14 bikes. Last year, Friendship Circle, in collaboration with bike companies and hundreds of private donors, provided 145 adaptive bikes to those with special needs. 

Friendship Circle recently launched the 2016 contest, and this year the nonprofit is hoping to give away 600 bikes. 

According to Friendship Circle’s website, the contest started as a pay-it-forward concept when an individual called the organization in 2011 requesting to donate a bicycle. Mikhail Reytsman told Friendship Circle that when he was a child, he was given a bicycle by a stranger when he was in need. The only condition was that he had to promise to pay it forward and give a child a bike when he turned 30. 

The first 600 people who registered were given a slot in this year’s contest. While the goal is to fund bicycles for all 600 kids and young adults, Friendship Circle must raise $1 million to reach its goal, Executive Director Bassie Shemtov said. 

The next step for the registrants was to recruit 10 ambassadors to help spread the word about the contest, get donations to increase the number of bikes available, and help get votes for the child to win a bike. The contest began March 8 and will conclude March 30. 

There are 10 categories of bikes up for grabs, and registrants were required to select which bike fits the child’s needs. If Friendship Circle doesn’t raise $1 million, Shemtov said, the child with the most votes for each bike category will receive a bike. Then the participants will be put into a raffle drawing for the remaining bikes. If the $1 million is raised, all 600 kids will receive bikes. As of press time, 51 out of 600 bikes had been funded, and donations were rolling in.

Donations can be made by visiting www.greatbikegiveaway.com.

Tzvi Schectman, family coordinator for Friendship Circle, said in an emailed statement that Friendship Circle hopes to make the dreams of 600 children come true.

“For the first time, they will be able to join a bike ride with friends and family, feel included, and experience the freedom and joy that a bike provides. Additionally, the Great Bike Giveaway brings an awareness of the need many families have for an adaptive bike,” Schectman said. 

Shemtov said the organization has found that most people don’t know these bikes actually exist. The bikes can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. 

“Most families can’t afford that luxury; although, it’s not a luxury, and that’s what we’re trying to say,” Shemtov said, explaining that insurance companies argue that the bicycles are not a medical need and the companies will not cover the cost. However, Shemtov said that the bicycles are medically necessary as they work muscles that the child otherwise wouldn’t work, and socially it allows them to be like the rest of their friends on the block. They also get the opportunity to enjoy bike rides with their family members. 

Of the 10 categories of bikes, Shemtov said she is most excited about the bicycle that has a wheelchair attached to the front of the bike.

“How cool is it that somebody in a wheelchair can get the feeling of air in their face that they never experienced?” Shemtov said. 

As a result of the five-year contest, Shemtov said that the bicycle manufactures are selling more adaptive bikes, and Friendship Circle has learned that other organizations have raised funds outside of the contest to donate bicycles to those who didn’t win previously.

Shemtov hopes that once a family grows out of the bicycle, they will continue the pay-it-forward concept and pass the bike on to someone in need.  

For more information or to donate, visit www.greatbikegiveaway.com.

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