Pedaling toward a better life

For the homeless, part of the challenge of securing a job is finding a way to get there. It’s a problem 45 fewer transients on Skid Row will have to cope with after dozens of high school students from Glendale, South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge handed out gleaming new bicycles Sunday morning.

The group of 20 students — who regularly volunteer at homeless services agencies in downtown Los Angeles — donated the 45 bikes after months of fundraising with the idea that a steady ride would help some clients more easily get to work.

The project was launched by LOOK International, a coalition of students from Crescenta Valley, Glendale, South Pasadena and La Cañada high schools.

“There are job placement programs, but transportation is still a problem,” said 17-year-old Jason Sim, the club’s president at South Pasadena High School. “Bikes will help them out in the long term.”

LOOK students worked throughout the summer, collecting bicycles and money from donations, hosting garage sales and buying new bikes with the proceeds. They also worked with local organizations to profile potential recipients whose lives would most improve with a new bicycle.

Brent and Shawana Spicer were among those who got a new bike as they waited in a small gated lot on Sunday. They made their way out to California from Chattanooga, Tenn. but health problems and an unforgiving economy pushed them into homelessness. Brent Spicer said he hoped his new bike would help him find a construction job.

“We just got put into it, times are tough,” said Brent Spicer, 41. “This is going to help us out tremendously.”

The students regularly visit the area, volunteering at local soup kitchens and donating food. But for 16-year-old Joseph Song, the LOOK president at La Cañada High School, it was his first time visiting Skid Row.

“Actually seeing the poverty with my own eyes was really impactful,” he said. “We could give them food or drink or money, but that doesn’t help them get out of here. Bikes allow them to move around, get jobs and start a new life.”

LOOK students said they also hoped to inspire other students into public service.

“We want to change someone’s life and we hope that the community sees this too,” said Rabbi Ko, 17-year-old senior and club president at Glendale High School. “We’re changing students’ perspectives and giving back.”

For the Spicers, the students’ effort means a deep red bike for Brent and a glittery purple mountain bike for Shawana. As they rolled their bikes off the lot, they left with some measure of optimism.

“I love it, it’s my color,” Shawana Spicer said. “In a year from now, I’m going to have a place to live — I want a house and this bike is going to help me get there. This is the key.”


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