By Nick Greenizan, Peace Arch News
NEWTON — The first thing you notice is the space, or lack thereof.
At REC For Kids – a non-profit, volunteer-run organization in Newton that collects and refurbishes bikes and sports equipment, then distributes it to children – nearly every inch of available real estate is piled high with sports equipment.
In what used to be the living room of the old, City of Surrey-owned house near Unwin Park, bikes – all fixed up and ready for new owners – stand in a line, ready for delivery. Next to the bikes, the dining room is filled with shelf upon shelf of gently-used running shoes; the kitchen, meanwhile contains bags of bike helmets, and each of the home’s spare rooms are jammed full of other donated gear, from figure skates and basketballs to baseball bats, gloves, hockey socks and soccer cleats.
And then there’s the basement, which smells strongly of rubber – courtesy of the hundreds of bike tires and tubing that hang on the walls – and has been transformed into a bicycle repair shop that would rival any professional outfit.
Everything in the house – and the building itself – has been donated to the organization, while some of the bikes, originally either stolen or lost, come from the RCMP once they go unclaimed.
Throughout the house, on what little available wall space is left, are hand-written posters which trumpet the organization’s mission statement.
“The vision is right there on the wall – it says ‘every child in need will have the sports and recreational equipment required to stay healthy, be active and have fun,” said Ian Lagasse, one of REC’s directors.
REC – which stands for Recycled Equipment and Cycles – has been operating since 2007, and was started by members of local rotary clubs, chiefly the Rotary Club of White Rock. The organization collects donated bikes and other sports gear, cleans them up, and then delivers the goods to youngsters throughout Surrey who’ve been referred to them through schools, the RCMP and a variety of social services.
The program – modeled after a similar one in Edmonton – aims to get children involved in sports at the grassroots level, and volunteers are just as happy to see a young recipient shooting hoops in a driveway with friends as they are to hear of them registered in an official sports league.
“And giving them a bicycle not only gets them out riding but it also helps these kids get to and from their activities. We give them some mobility,” said Don Jones, another director, adding that REC has given away more than 340 bikes this year alone.
Refugee families – like the many expected to arrive soon from Syria – are among REC’s many clients, Lagasse said, adding that it’s especially rewarding to help them adjust to a new country.
“They come here literally with nothing, and to one of those children, a bike isn’t just a means of conveyance – not just a way to get around – but it’s something that allows them to be seen by their peers as being part of the group,” he said.
The program was the brainchild of Derek Lucas, a White Rock rotarian who died in 2013. Both Lagasse and Jones are quick to credit Lucas’ dogged determination – especially in the early days – for getting the organization off the ground.
“Some of our early meetings, it was an uphill battle. I don’t know how many times we went to Derek and said… ‘forget it, Derek. It was a good idea, but it’s not gonna fly. We can’t make it go.’
“But he would not take no for an answer. He just would not accept that this wasn’t going to work.”
Lucas’s wife, Donna, is a current director and volunteer, and laughs when she recalls how her husband came up with the idea for the program.
“Our kids grew up and when they were going off to university, he looked around the garage and said, ‘Hey, what about all this sports stuff?’
“We laid it all out on the front lawn but nobody picked any of it up – bikes, baseball gloves, baseball bats, all of it. Derek didn’t want to take it all to the dump, so he packed it all up and drove around looking for kids to give it to. He just drove around, handing stuff out.
“I think that was his motivation, to tell you the truth – to clean out the garage.”
Though Donna, Lagasse and Jones admit REC for Kids often feels like a full-time job – all three are retired, as are many, but not all, of their fellow volunteers – Donna has a simple answer when asked why all the work is worth it.
“What it is, is the look on the kids faces when you give them their bike, or their shoes or skates,” she said.
There was one face – one little girl – who all three remember, specifically.
A few years ago, a single mother came to REC after being referred there by a social service. Her daughter, about to turn five, had never had a bike before, but was nervous about entering the house.
“Her mother said, ‘You’d better come in, because we might be able to get you a bike,’” Donna recalled.
“Then the girl said she didn’t want just any bike, she wanted a special bike, like one she’d had a dream about.”
The perfect bike, the little girl explained, was to be white and pink with flowers on it, and it needed a basket, streamers and a bell.
“And as she’s saying all this, I look over at the bike we have for her, and it’s exactly like the one she’d described,” Donna continued. “She ran in and said ‘That’s the bike from my dream!’ She jumped up and down, she couldn’t believe it. We all had tears in our eyes, and her mother just burst into tears. She said she never would’ve been able to afford that bike.
“‘You don’t know how much this means to me,’ she said.”