Remember your very first bicycle?
How can you forget?
Carting your friends to the park on your handlebars, racing down the street to see who could pump their little legs the fastest, hoping and praying your chain wouldn’t break or tire wouldn’t pop. It was all a part of growing up. Your first set of wheels that gave you a small taste of independence and freedom.
But what if you never had a bike? Think of all of the neighborhood memories you would have missed. This idea didn’t sit right with Chelsea Eline, co-founder of Wheelhouse, a bicycle donation hub in Salisbury.
Wheelhouse operates under the parent organization International Mountain Bicycling Association, which opened a chapter affiliate program on the Eastern Shore seven years ago.
The organization’s relationship with Salisbury helped recruit and retain volunteers to maintain local bike trails throughout the region.
Eline and fellow co-founders LaTanya Wilson of New Dimensions Family Ministries and Jessica Truxon made it their mission to bring together community resources, donations and volunteers to provide bicycles to local community members, so everyone will have the opportunity to ride trails and enjoy the outdoors.
“We started collecting bikes from friends and neighbors and rehabbing them in our shed,” Eline said.
“The idea was to let people in the community use them for free. Ten bikes became 20 and 20 became 30. Before we knew it we had over 50 bicycles to lend out.”
“Wheelhouse has been great to our church,” Wilson added.
“We were in the process of building a bike trail behind our church and Wheelhouse allowed us to get bikes for our church families. Some have since been able to donate back,” she said.
This week, the women spoke at the Salisbury City Council meeting, describing Wheelhouse and asking for volunteers and donated equipment and helmets.
“We’ll take anything. We can use it. We maintain a fleet of bicycles for community and youth events. We have bike locks for those in need,” Eline said, laughing as she recalled Wheelhouse starting in her house.
“We couldn’t walk into my living room. We couldn’t use my garage,” she said.
“Wheelhouse is about people being able to come together and influence each other’s lives. All that matters is this joy. We can use the bikes to come together,” she said.
As word was spreading in the community about Wheelhouse, Easton Bike Shop owners Laura and Jason Chance were opening a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, filled with tires, rims, seats and tubes, plus more than 100 bicycles that were donated to Wheelhouse.
It didn’t take long for Salisbury City Police Chief Barbara Duncan to help.
She knew one of the goals was helping at-risk youth and getting them off the streets and on bikes for more productive and age-appropriate activities. The police department donated 14 recovered bicycles and storage space.
Pedal forward to an overheard conversation between friends.
“I was having lunch with the mayor and I overheard him asking someone how her search was going. I was curious,” said Brad Gillis of Devreco.
Mayor Jake Day had been talking to Eline.
“Secrets don’t keep Downtown,” she said.
“When Brad found out we were looking for space for hundreds of parts and donated bicycles to set up a bike shop to serve the community he didn’t hesitate. He jumped in and offered us a solution.”
“We have basement space for you. If you want to clean it up — it’s yours. You can have it,” Gillis had told her.
The 2,000 square foot space, below Old Towne Deli on North Division Street, was exactly what the organization was looking for. It was large enough to accommodate a working bike shop where volunteers would rehabilitate and build bicycles, plus adequate storage for hundreds of parts and donated bikes that would ultimately end up benefiting the community.
The women didn’t waste time, but spent the next 72 hours, plus a lot of elbow grease, cleaning the space and moving in, in less than one week. They established the e-mail address email@example.com.
City Council President Jack Heath said he’s impressed with the organization because it’s “not simply about bikes.”
“They made a point to say this allows people to go and have interaction with other people, not just in their neighborhoods. It allows you to meet other people and that’s important, especially in this day and age.
“It’s a great effort. I commend them for it. It makes our city even better,” he said.
Wheelhouse isn’t receiving city funding, at least not yet, since it’s such a new organization, he said. “We can help them with grant searches. Chief Duncan helped them get the resources they needed,” Heath said.
“Having a place is huge,” Eline said.
“We are so grateful to Devreco for giving us a space for our volunteers to show up. They saw the value in what we were doing. It is people, businesses and actions like these that define our community. Wheelhouse is now a part of the revitalization that is coming to life in Downtown Salisbury.”