LIFESTYLE

Bicycles abandoned at UConn now finding new homes through Latino non-profit

Bici-Co FB

 (Bici-Co FB)

Dozens of bicycles found abandoned at the University of Connecticut or impounded by the school are finding new homes in Hartford.

The school this month donated 60 such bikes to BiCi Co., which is short for Bicicleta Comunidad, an educational inner-city bike shop run by the nonprofit Center for Latino Progress.

That organization plans to refurbish the bicycles in its classes and workshops. Most will be donated to city shelters or will go to those who are learning to fix them as part of the shop's earn-a-bike program.

"A youth comes in and builds up a bike that goes to a shelter," said Tony Cherolis, the founder of BiCi Co. "Once they've completed that service, they work on and complete a second bicycle, which they get to keep with a lock, lights and a helmet."

The program, which includes bicycle safety classes, teaches a marketable skill, reinforces it through repetition and provides members of the community with a cheap and reliable form of transportation.

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Cherolis, who had worked on a similar abandoned-bicycle project with the University of Illinois, said he was approached by an official in UConn's legal office, who also happens to be an avid cyclist, about the availability of bikes on the Storrs campus.

School spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the school collects 75 to 100 bicycles a year that have been left behind in dorm rooms or on bike racks, many by students who have graduated and don't have the room or ability to take the bikes with them.

Others have been impounded after being found improperly chained to things such as street signs and fire hydrants, she said.

The school leaves a note giving the owner a day or two to move the bike. Once the bike is impounded, the school holds onto it for a minimum of 30 days and often up to a year, she said.

"We make every effort to find the owner," she said. "But we don't get that very often. Normally what we find is that if they get left behind at the end of the school year, nobody comes looking for them."

In the past, abandoned bikes had been put up as part of a school surplus property sale. The school made almost no money from those sales, "barely worth the trouble to store them, prep them for possible purchase and then later return unpurchased bikes to storage," Reitz said.

Some of the bikes received by Cherolis were in poor shape and will be salvaged for parts. But many were still rideable, some in excellent condition, he said.

Reitz said giving the bicycles to BiCi Co. is in keeping with UConn's commitment to serving cities with campuses and to promoting initiatives that are environmentally sustainable and beneficial to public health.

She said the school plans to continue providing bicycles to the nonprofit and is exploring future initiatives with Bici Co., such as student volunteer projects, particularly once UConn establishes its downtown Hartford campus in 2016.

Cherolis said BiCi Co. has plans to open a full-service shop and store.

"For some people, these bicycles can mean the difference between having a job or not having a job," said Yanil Terón, the executive director of Center for Latino Progress. "The entire community will benefit."

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