It all started when a grateful parent put a post up on social media about her son’s bike being stolen while he was at the Cranston High School East football game one Friday night.
The post was not actually about the theft of the bike, but rather about the fact that she was overwhelmed to find out that her son had been given a refurbished bike courtesy the Cranston East Thunderbolt Bike Shop which is run by the Life Skills students at East and overseen by technology educator Ken Bowling.
The Bike Shop is now in its third year in existence, and the post received a great deal of attention online, as did Bowling.
“It’s important to me that this is about the kids and the community more than anything,” he said.
Bowling noted that the Bike Shop actually gave out not one but two bikes last week to students in the community whose bikes had been stolen. Only one received attention, but the episode has shone light on a program that thrives by helping others – and thanks to a community that is fully supportive of its efforts.
“After the football game, Assistant Principal Chris D’Ambrosio came down to me and explained what had happened and asked if there was anything we could do for the student,” Bowling said. “I said that we absolutely could, so the student came down and looked at the bikes we had in the shop which have all been donated, and he picked out a bike.”
Bowling explained that the donated bikes for the Bike Shop often come from the Cranston Police Department – thanks to School Resource Officer Matt Davis – as well as from faculty and staff. The bike the student chose was one that police had donated after it had been marked stolen and subsequently held in the department’s evidence room for a number of years.
“My students checked the bike out, worked on the tires and the brakes and got it ready to go,” he said. “They are used to this because they give out bikes to those in need all the time, especially at Christmastime when families would like to give their kids a bike for Christmas but they aren’t able to. They go through all of the bikes and check the basic mechanics – the tires, tubes, they align the frames, do brake jobs. They have used this to learn how to use basic tools, they pull wrenches, use screwdrivers.”
As word got out of the good deed Bowling and his students had done, a GoFundMe campaign was set up in his name. But Bowling still insists the attention should be on the students and the support received from Cranston East’s administration, the special education department and the local community since the program’s inception.
“We’ve been trying to raise money for a tool box,” he said, noting that the tools were recently moved into a rolling two-drawer file cabinet he had found.
Bowling said he is grateful for the additional support that the program has gained as a result of the original social media post.
“I would like to give a profound note of thanks and gratitude to all who have donated to the GoFundMe page. The community support and connections made will continue to help our program grow and thrive,” he said. “We would definitely use that money for the program, maybe for some additional tools and for a really good tool box.”
Bowling said he is proud of his students, not only for what they’ve learned about the mechanics of bike repair in class, but also for their giving spirit.
“My kids are committed to giving back to those less fortunate, and they love to clean up and recycle a bike so that they can give it right back out to the community,” he said. “My job here is only to serve and protect. They deserve the spotlight. I’m just a cog in the wheel. The kids love this class. They are active, they are learning and they are impacting other people’s lives.”
Jen Cowart is a communications specialist for Cranston Public Schools.