In 1994, Helena, Montana, Kiwanian Jim Christnacht saw a large number of bikes in the police department impound lot and his wheels started turning.
“I saw a need for adults and children who did not have bikes,” he says. “I checked with the police department to see if I could obtain a small number to be fixed up and donated to those in need as an experiment. It’s an experiment that far exceeded our expectations!”
The project began shortly after he retired from Montana state government in 1994. He set the ambitious goal of donating 1,000 bikes and, 19 years later, has almost achieved it.
“When I started, I contacted schools and nonprofit groups supporting children,” like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Helena YMCA, he explains.
“I soon expanded to nonprofit groups working with vulnerable adults. This is the same method I continue to use.”
As a result, the bikes have also found homes at the Helena YWCA, Shodair Children’s Hospital, Salvation Army (an international Christian charitable organization that supports those who are poor or affected by disasters), and West Mont (a nonprofit serving Montanans with disabilities).
After so many years of service, Christnacht is known around the community for his bike-fixing prowess. “Sometimes folks pass my name to other individuals who need a bike,” he shares.
He says he learned to fix bikes “out of necessity. … When I was in high school in Washington , my friends and I didn’t have cars. We had to ride our bikes five miles rain or shine. My wife and I have four sons and a daughter, so I was kept busy maintaining bikes.”
These days, bike fixing has become more like another job. But the thank you letters he and his Kiwanis club receive continue to motivate his endeavor. For instance, a card and letter from the Friendship Center, a Helena-based agency and shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence, contains several messages from families and staff.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! The joy a bike can bring to a person is not measurable. You’ve opened up so many possibilities to our families,” reads one. “The children have enjoyed these bikes so much! I believe the only time they haven’t been riding them is when they are eating or sleeping!,” shares another.
Even the governor took notice. “Your kindness and commitment to helping others is an inspiration for all Montanans,” wrote past Governor Brian Schweitzer. “I know these bikes will bring much joy to the children who receive them and will be put to good use for years to come.” — Courtney Meyer
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