South Charlotte

23,000 bikes for kids and counting

Remember when you got your first bike?

"It's a rite of passage for children, having that first taste of freedom and independence," said Will Beard, president of The Spokes Group. "It's something that, unfortunately, not every kid can experience. We're trying to spread that joy."

The Spokes Group, a nonprofit based in south Charlotte, raises money to purchase new bikes for disadvantaged children in the Charlotte area.

The Spokes Group was founded in 1994 by local businessmen Dick Dunn, now 80, and Beard's father, Andy, now 63, who both worked in the insurance and benefits field.

"They had been longtime friends, and they challenged each other to come up with something good to do for the community around Christmastime," said Beard.

So they started a month-long competition to see who could raise the most money within his company - money that would then be used to buy bikes for underprivileged children.

That first year, they raised enough money to donate 17 bicycles.

And now, 17 years after the nonprofit was founded, The Spokes Group has donated about 23,000 bikes and helmets.

"It's touched a lot of people," said Beard.

The Spokes Group is unique in that all eight board members have full-time jobs. That means all of the money they raise goes to purchasing bikes.

"The scrutiny of nonprofits has really (brought) people to our doorstep because they know that 100 cents of every dollar is going to the cause," said Beard, 35, who is an assistant vice president of Merrill Lynch & Co.

This Christmas they hope to distribute more than 2,500 bikes through the Salvation Army's Christmas Bureau, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte and Right Moves for Youth.

Each of these organizations does background checks and assesses the needs of the families.

A fully assembled bike and helmet costs $70.

Beard said many people donate bikes on behalf or in memory of someone.

"Everybody's got that great aunt or uncle or mother or father who has everything, and you scratch your head, trying to think of something to give them," said Beard. "This is a good gift idea."

All of the bikes will be under the kids' trees on Christmas Day.

"It's a simple story and that's what has made it successful over the years," said Beard.