Every year, Refugee and Immigration Services – Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri has great volunteers come into the office and take on different roles and responsibilities. This year alone nearly 50 volunteers have dedicated over 3,000 hours of service to the refugee community. Without the selfless actions of volunteers, RIS would not be able to provide refugees with all of the great programs we have to offer. Something we have been working on recently shows how people are sometimes willing to go the extra mile!
If you follow us on Facebook you have seen all the beautifully restored bicycles that our office has been able to give to refugees this season. We’re proud to recognize Chuck Bondra, the man behind each and every repair these cycles require before they are ready to ride. Thanks to the work of Chuck and bike donations from Klunk! Bicycles and Repair, and PedNet Coalition, we have been able to provide 4 bicycles to refugees in the past month alone, with many more just awaiting a few necessary repairs before they too will provide an invaluable transportation solution to a refugee rider.
After retiring, Chuck was looking for volunteer opportunities in the community where he could lend a hand. Chuck wanted to help an organization he found interesting, and about 2 years ago he heard of a program through PedNet for low-income high school students and homeless veterans. PedNet would fix up bicycles and give them to individuals in the program. Having only experience repairing motorcycles, and not much previous knowledge about bike mechanics, Chuck had to be trained. Through PedNet training and the proactive approach of renting books and videos from the library to learn more about this unique trade, Chuck was soon the go-to guy for minor bike repairs.
Eventually, the PedNet program lost funding and Chuck had to find a new place to hone his newfound skills. Karl Kimbel, fellow PedNet volunteer and also the owner of Klunk!, mentioned Refugee and Immigration Services to Chuck. PedNet has done work with RIS in the past, educating refugees on bicycle laws and safety and Klunk! has also been donating bikes to RIS that they do not have the time to fix up themselves, so Kimbel was familiar with the work RIS was doing in the community. Chuck decided to stop in and leave his name with the RIS office, and very quickly received a call letting him know that his services were needed. Chuck generously agreed to fix up the bikes Klunk! had donated, as well as bikes currently in the possession of refugees that need some TLC.
Chuck says that most of the bikes he has repaired for RIS have needed new parts. When he was working with PedNet he worked on bikes that were close to new and just dirty from sitting in basements and garages. However, parts can deteriorate from sitting for long amounts of time. Klunk! has been generous in giving Chuck substantial discounts for new bike parts, as well as used bike parts that are in good condition. Many of the bikes Chuck receives have missing or broken parts, but can usually be salvaged. Chuck says that his main goal is to make bikes workable, and he is not so concerned with cosmetics and appearance. Chuck tries to replace seats and rusted parts, as well, but it is not absolutely necessary. As long as the bike has good tires, brakes, and chains, the bike should be safe and functional for refugees to ride. Chuck recognizes that working on bikes is very labor intensive and not something that he could easily make a living from, as one bike repair can take him up to 7 hours since he is still fairly new and slow at the repair process.
In addition to volunteering with RIS, Chuck also takes on several other responsibilities in the community. He works once a week at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store in Columbia where community members can buy building materials. Chuck runs the cash register, moves furniture, helps load trucks, and takes donations. Once a month, Chuck also works to direct traffic at a hazardous material drop-off center. Chuck’s giving nature even expands outside of the Columbia city limits. Chuck and his wife spend 5 months out of the year in Florida to help with his wife’s fibromyalgia. He spends his time there as a case worker for St. Vincent de Paul, works at a library, and also volunteers at St. Matthews House, a local homeless shelter. Sometimes he has the opportunity to fix bikes for homeless people while working at St. Matthews House and enjoys seeing the gratitude of the bike-owners. Because the homeless shelter has little money to spend on the bike repairs, Chuck has learned to make these repairs for cheap, which has aided him while fixing bikes for RIS. Chuck has also been able to see the impact his work has had on refugees here in Columbia after receiving a video from RIS, of a young man who had been given a bike and “looked really happy”. Chuck’s schedule is busy and he is not always able to repair as many bikes as he would like to, but he has expressed interest in helping others learn the tips and tricks that he has figured out and letting volunteers shadow him so that RIS can expand the amount of bikes they are able to offer to refugees.
We are delighted to share Chuck’s story because it is a testament to how far service and community collaboration go to serve our local refugee population. We are beyond grateful to Chuck and the many other volunteers that dedicate their time and talents to those in need.
If you have an interest in repairing bicycles for refugees, or learning more about volunteer opportunities with RIS, contact Katie Freehling, Volunteer Coordinator at the RIS office.
(573) 442-7568 email@example.com