In the two years since the Free Wheeling (Pleins Rayons) program started in Cowansville, 465 refurbished bicycles have been donated to local schools and community groups. The non-profit organization, with the motto ‘changing lives, one bike at a time,’ promotes social inclusion and integration for young adults between the ages of 15 and 35 years living with an autism spectrum disorder, an intellectual disability, or at risk students at the high school and elementary levels by teaching the participants bike mechanics. The newly trained technicians then donate the bicycles they have repaired to schools for fitness programs, or to families in need as gifts. The most recent donation was a load of 14 bicycles of various sizes, given to the community pediatric social centre, Main dans la Main, in Cowansville. “We’re very happy,” said Main dans la Main founder Ysabelle Proulx, watching youth from the centre arrive to see their new bikes. “Community is very important. It takes a village to raise a kid, that’s our philosophy,” Proulx said, thankful for the collaboration with Free Wheeling. “They will be given directly to the kids,” Proulx said. The majority had already been earmarked for specific children who frequent the centre, and the others will no doubt be snatched up quickly. According to Free Wheeling Director General Stephan Marcoux, the partnership with Main dans la Main made perfect sense. “There are a lot of kids in need in Brome-Missisquoi,” Marcoux said, adding it is part of the Free Wheeling mission to make sure that all kids who would like a bike can have one. “Not everyone can afford it,” Marcoux commented. “It’s such a fun sport,” he added, pointing out the he is an avid cyclist himself. “It’s so freeing.” The idea behind Free Wheeling started when local philanthropist Michael Herman acquired a massive load of high-tech bicycle parts following the closure of an area factory. He then recovered used and unwanted bicycles from citizens and eco-centres, had them restored and then returned them, free of charge, to the community through local schools. Herman then joined forces with Marcoux, who is a recreational therapist in addition to being a professional cyclist. A board of directors was later formed with other specialists and community stakeholders. See full story in the Thursday, April 12th edition of The Record.