August 05, 2014
SALINA, Kan. - Russell Diehl found his calling while working at a recycling facility, where he saw nothing but opportunity in piles of damaged bicycles. The S1 fabrication operator is now known by neighborhood children as “the bike guy.”
“I bought a couple of the bikes, brought them home, and started working on them,” he said. “The next thing I knew, all the little kids in the neighborhood were saying, ‘hey, you can fix bikes,’ so I just kept fixing bikes.”
Last year, Diehl and his daughter formally founded the Salina Kids on Bikes program. He and two other mechanics gave away 62 bikes in the program’s first year and have already tallied 73 bikes in 2014. “Normally, a kid comes by the house and picks out a bike. We take it to the garage and rebuild it with the kid,” he said. “I like showing them how. A lot of parents don’t know how to fix a bike because nobody stopped and took the time to show them.”
While most recipients are from low-income families, Diehl will give a bike to any child who wants one. “Most of the parents we help are in-need parents. They’re single mothers and single fathers,” Diehl said. “We try to take care of everyone. Should I need help, I will call another mechanic in. It never ever stops. We always work on bikes.”
If a child outgrows their bike, it can be upgraded, but they are not allowed to sell the old one. Every bike is tracked with a numbered sticker, and Diehl remembers all of them. “There is a story with every bike,” he said. “It’s more than just the bikes. It’s the people. It’s the parents. It’s the kids. Times are tough sometimes, and some of the lives we touch are very serious.”
Diehl said the community has been very supportive of the program. Inventory is maintained by donations. “It’s crazy. It’s like fate will bring them to you as you need them,” he said. “You’ll never know that you need them. All the sudden, these bikes will be there and you’ll already have kids for them. I’ve never had too many and never not had enough. They just come in when they’re supposed to.” Donations are always accepted. Bikes of any size can be dropped off at Diehl’s house, located at 500 S. 11th Street, in Salina. Adult bikes are restored and sold to help fund bikes for kids. Unusable bikes are stripped of their parts before being taken to the junk yard. You donate a bike and I’ll turn it into a kid’s smile,” said Diehl.
Currently, the program’s biggest need is for parts. “We get a lot of bikes, and that’s great, but we need tubes, we need locks, we need helmets, we need tires of any size,” Diehl said. He said Bike Tek in Salina will assist donors in purchasing needed parts for the program. Monetary donations are also accepted at Central National Bank.
Diehl said his job at Great Plains has truly helped him sustain the program. “I am really proud of the company. I would not have been able to do half of what I’ve done without having a good job like Great Plains,” he said.
To find out more about Diehl’s program and ways you can help, check out the Salina Kids on Bikes Facebook page!