Joyce Bibombe walked into a darkened storefront that used to be a bar and restaurant and gasped at the hundreds of bicycles lined up next to each other in rows, filling up the entire space. She combed through the styles and sizes and looked for something to catch her eye.
Joyce, 9, found a teal one first, but it was way too big for her when she tried to climb on the seat. Then she found a purple one, but that wasn’t completely fixed yet. The third time was the charm: a pink and white mountain bike that rode like a dream and fit her perfectly.
“I love this one, it’s so pretty, ” Joyce called out as she peddled her new bike in circles around the parking lot outside Second Chance Bicycle Shop at 14573 E. Alameda Ave.
“I haven’t had a bike since I was in my old country in Namibia,” Joyce said. “I can’t wait to ride this everywhere, especially when we go to the park.”
Ernie Clark, the founder of Second Chance Bicycle Shop, has been collecting used, broken, damaged and discarded bikes and bike parts for several years. He takes the bits and pieces back to his headquarters, which have moved around Aurora four times in four years, where his dedicated team of volunteers fixes the bikes and gets them in the hands of needy kids and adults in the metro area.
“We have a lot of clients who have been wanting bikes for a while,” said Laura Tran, a youth program intern with the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement program in Denver that is helping Joyce’s family. “We found (Second Chance Bicycle Shop), and knew it would be a perfect match for helping our families finally get some really great bikes that they get to pick out themselves.”
Now, organizations all over the Denver metro area are catching on to Clark’s project.
“We’re doing really good here,” Clark, 60, said. “We have people come in every day to get bikes or to get them fixed. People from all over call me looking to donate bikes or get bikes for their kids. I just picked up five bikes from the Denver Rescue Mission this morning, and the Parker Police Department donated 30 last weekend.”
Second Chance Bikes started in Clark’s friend’s backyard about a decade ago. The pair would fix a handful of bikes and get them back on the street to people experiencing homelessness and in need of a way to get to work.
“We took in five at a time, fixed them up and got rid of them,” Clark said.
Since then, the charity has lived in a detached garage on Dayton Street, the basement of Kim Robards Dance Studio off East Colfax Avenue, and a small storage facility at the Community College of Aurora. About a year and a half ago, Aurora city officials found the empty store space off Alameda Avenue and Sable Boulevard and told Clark he could stay there for free as long as he chipped in on the bills.
“The city gave us the building, and that’s wonderful, but the problem I’m having now is that we have to pay lights and gas and insurance for the building,” Clark said. “This is the first building we’ve ever had that we have bills on … and we’re not quite able to apply for grants or things like that yet.”
But now, with looming costs incurring on the property, like a $400 insurance bill due in September, Clark has started to ask people in the community for donations of $5 or $10 when they drop off or pick up bikes. Until then, he was keeping the bills at bay on his own.
“We’ve also never charged folks anything for these bikes in the past,” Clark said. “Either they come in and find a bike and fix it themselves and then keep it, or they work for it through a reward system I have set up at different recreation centers and youth centers around the city, or they get it for free in a bike drive or donation event.”
But until Clark can solidify the organization’s 501(c)3 nonprofit designation this year, he can’t apply for any type of grant funding to help pay for and maintain the shop spaces.
“I hate to ask people,” Clark said. “Especially because no one is used to me asking them, and a lot of people just don’t have any money. But I don’t know what else to do to keep it going.”
To offset his request for donations, Clark started fixing bikes for people in the community. Now, perfectly good bikes with dislodged chains or faulty brakes or broken wheels can get dropped with Clark’s team and usually fixed within a day or two.
“There’s something wrong with every bike when it comes in here, and even though we get these bikes for free, we still spend time fixing it and getting parts to make it better and getting it back up and running,” Clark said. “We’ve done a lot of good for the community, and we’re getting so busy. Now would not be the time to call it quits on this.”