01/09/05 — Inmates to rebuild bikes for tsunami survivors

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Inmates to rebuild bikes for tsunami survivors

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 9, 2005 2:07 AM

Chris Christman was wondering on his way to work Tuesday morning what he could do to help the victims of a tsunami that struck Indonesia on Christmas Day.

He works at Wayne Correctional Center as the assistant superintendent for programs. While he was at work that day, a woman called. She identified herself as Jacklyn Phillips and told Christman she wanted inmates to get involved with her project to provide refurbished bicycles to the tsunami victims. She said she hopes to have 1,000 bicycles ready to ship by June 1.

"She realizes their principal mode of transportation in that region is bicycles, and the bicycles will help get relief supplies to the victims," said Christman. "We haven't set a goal here. We'll take as many as the community will give us. She's taken on a big task."

Mrs. Phillips, who is close to 70, was already involved in a project with Gates Correctional Center in Gates County where she lives. The prison there started taking donations of unwanted bicycles three years ago and repairing them for her to give to children who would not otherwise receive anything for Christmas.

Mrs. Phillips said when the tsunami struck on Christmas Day, she called the prison people.

"You can't put a car over there," she said about the places where the tsunami hit. "Bicycles are the only way these people can get around the washed out roads, the cracks and crevices."

Bicycles started coming in, and they're still coming in. People are calling from all over the state.

"It's a tremendous outpouring," said Mrs. Phillips.

She said a woman called her Friday morning from Mount Airy saying her Ruitan Club was asking what they could do when the tsunami struck. Then, they saw an article in a local newspaper about the bicycle project. They decided to set up a shop and collect bicycles and send them to her.

"This is God's project, not mine," said Mrs. Phillips. "If you've never worked with God, you can see Him working in this."

Christman has been wonderful, she said.

He said that when Mrs. Phillips contacted officials at the Goldsboro prison, "we thought it was fantastic. We'd solicit from the public unwanted bicycles, and the inmates would volunteer their own free time to refurbish them."

He and Program Director Richard Potter broached the subject with the seven inmates who work in the prison's maintenance shop. They all asked if they could be involved in it.

"They don't get anything out of it but the pleasure of helping people," said Christman, who expects to have more inmates willing to volunteer than he will know what to do with before it's over.

The prison has a population of 428. Word has not even gotten out yet, and 10 of the staff members have already started donating bicycles. He hopes to have some bicycles Monday for the inmates to start working.

The project will give the inmates something positive to do, said Christman. It will make them feel good about themselves.

"All inmates are not evil," he said. "They've just made a mistake."

He said the prison superintendent, Carla O'Konek, mentioned the project Thursday at a meeting she attended, and Goldsboro City Manager Richard Slozak loved the idea. He said Slozak volunteered the use of five fire stations in Goldsboro as drop-off points for unwanted bicycles and parts. He even offered to deliver them to the prison.

People doing community service for federal probation and parole may become involved in the project.

The New Hope Folunteer Fire Department offered to be a drop-off site.

"We haven't had a chance to contact the others, yet," said Christman. "If businesses want to get involved, we're trying to get businesses, too."

Christman and Potter can be reached at 734-5911 or 734-5580 for information or donations.

The bicycles will look brand new by the time the inmates finish repairing them, said Christman. When they're all gathered, the prison will call Mrs. Phillips, and she will send somebody from one of the two trucking companies that have promised to pick up bicycles for her project.

Mrs. Phillips has gathered 300 bicycles already. Some need to be fixed. Some are ready to go. A man has donated a warehouse so they can be storage until they are shipped.

Mrs. Phillips is accepting monetary donations, too. They can be made to Bicycle Ministry, Wachovia Bank, P.O. Box 827, Ahoskie, N.C. 27910.

Mrs. Phillips can be reached at 252-357-2295.