TOPEKA — When it moved into its downtown home in January, the Topeka Community Cycle Project had nothing to show but a 2,500-square-foot empty room.
Today, thanks to the support of the community, that room at 423 S. Kansas is filled with 425 donated bicycles, plus scavenged parts. Volunteers have logged more than 1,100 hours working on the building and fixing up the bicycles. The organization has donated 18 bicycles to children and has loaners available to help people get to work.
The program also has developed its own badge of honor.
Volunteers first log hours learning to build bicycles for others. After reaching the 10-hour milestone, they are allowed to build their own bicycles. Nineteen such bicycles have been built, some by people who knew little to nothing about bicycle building or repair until recently.
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Finishing a bicycle can be a proud moment for such volunteers as Caleb Maggard, a seventh-grader at Washburn Rural Middle School and self-described bicycle guy who spends much of his free time at the shop.
"Once you build a bike, you take more pride in it," said Caleb, who built a road bicycle for himself. "And when you ride it, you feel more comfortable with it."
Bernice Yambao spent her volunteer hours washing the windows and sweeping up the shop. She earned the right to build a three-speed, maroon-and-orange cruiser and is learning about bicycles as she fixes hers up.
Yambao has been getting help from Tollie Reed, who since June has volunteered more than 50 hours, mostly as a mechanic.
"When you teach somebody how to maintain their bike — when you show them what's wrong and how you fix it — you can see the light go off in their head," Reed said.
"It's really a joy to do. I love teaching people how to maintain their own bike. It's been really cool for me."
Reed appreciates the freedom of riding a bicycle.
"When I'm out in the elements and in the wind and I'm riding, I know that nothing is going to stop me," he said.
One of the most exciting things for TCCP founder Robert Fitzgerald has been what his program is doing for downtown Topeka.
"Breathing life into buildings downtown is a good thing to do," said Fitzgerald, who said he takes satisfaction from bringing people downtown to work on bicycles.
Fitzgerald hasn't been surprised by the number of volunteers. What has been surprising, he said, are the donations.
TCCP has received such items as file cabinets and hundreds of bicycles. TCCP has donated children's bicycles to the Topeka Rescue Mission's Hope Center, and guests at the rescue mission volunteer their time for the loaner work bicycles and earn-a-bikes.
"The people seeking services at the rescue mission, they are the demographic that could really use the bikes," Fitzgerald said. "It means we are able to get a bike into someone's hands immediately, so they are able to get around town."