CHARLESTOWN — The thrift store of the Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need has some special new items for sale, just in time for spring.
Several bicycles, salvaged from the Westerly landfill, have been completely refurbished and now await new owners. The work was done by students at the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy.
Ray Gomes, a mathematics teacher in the academy's clinical day program, is leading the program.
“It started with the idea of recycling bicycles,” he said. “I’d seen it done in other places, and with our students, having hands-on projects is nice. So I thought about contacting the landfill in Westerly.”
Gomes contacted Mike Serra, assistant superintendent of the Westerly Department of Public Works, to see if there were any discarded bikes at the town’s transfer station. Serra obtained the necessary authorization to allow CALA to take the bicycles.
“His guys pulled aside some bicycles from the metals recycling bins for a few weeks and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got about a dozen bikes,’” Gomes said. “I came down, we grabbed about 10 of them, brought them to the school, I brought in my tools and bike stands, and we started cleaning them up, getting them ready to sell.”
The students got to do a bit of everything, from filling tires to cleaning, lubricating and adjusting the wheels.
“We had three students that delivered bicycles and then we had a couple of additional students that did some work, so we had about six students that were involved in the project at some level,” Gomes said.
One of the students is 13-year-old Chad Boisclair, of Richmond, who is entering eighth grade next year. In addition to helping deliver the bikes to RICAN — seven so far — he said he had also learned a lot about bicycle repair.
“My role was to basically help Mr. Gomes in fixing hubs, the bearings, cleaning them, putting grips on them, checking the tires,” he said. “I never knew how to do it, but I’ve gotten into it … It has been an eye-opener. I’ve looked into it and I’ve never really followed through and this time, I did.”
Gomes said Chad had been a valuable asset. “He was the most vested in the project,” he said. “I’d like to expand the project. I’d like to do more with it, if I have more students like Chad that are willing to put in the time."
Depending on the model, the bikes in the RICAN store are selling from just a few dollars to $80.
RICAN Administrative Assistant Dana Moriarity said the center welcomed the donated bicycles.
“I think it’s wonderful to have a place where the kids can bring their rehabbed bicycles, and they’ve been selling great,” she said. “There are bicycles in all ranges, so we’ve priced accordingly, so everybody has an opportunity to get bikes.”
Gomes said he hoped to be able to get more bicycles from Westerly to keep the project going.
“I’ll have to contact Mike again and see about getting more bikes," he said. "They set aside some, I wanted to get those done and then see how the project went, see how the students responded, see how it worked here at RICAN. My understanding is they’ve sold six of the seven that we originally brought.”
Sarah Golub, the academy's outreach coordinator, said the bicycle project had not only provided learning experiences for the students but had also enhanced their involvement in the community.
“I feel like it’s been really successful with Mr. Gomes and the students,” she said. “I think it would be really helpful for us to continue to reach out the community and help however we can.”