Ken Nies is a true hero in the BWL world, running a Bike Ministry Program providing bikes to the homeless and other needy adults in Lee County who need a bike for transportation, while teaching the homeless how to repair bikes, and asking recipients to put in 8 hours of service with a nonprofit. A true win-win-win formula.
Thanks to News-Press reporter Craig Handel for highlighting this unsung hero in our community.
Here's how to help:
Be part of Ken's movement...donate bikes, bike parts--drop them off at City Gate Ministries in downtown Fort Myers. Details below. If you live (or work or play) on Sanibel, you're in luck! Just bring your donations of bikes and bike parts to Billy's Bike Shop, 1509 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, and he'll have a special spot designated for the program and will then deliver them to Ken. Thank you Billy and Sally Kirkland!! If you have any questions, call Billy's Bike Shop on 239-472-3620. If you'd like to donate money, just send check to the
Fort Myers ministry bike program promotes pride, accountability--Ministry gives bikes to needy who earn it
|Photo by Andrew West/news-press.com|
|Mary and Ken Nies|
When Ken Nies retired as a principal in Buffalo 16 years ago, the last thing he wanted to deal with was people.
But the kids and homeless sucked him back in – especially those who needed a bicycle.
In the past 10 years, Working Hands Ministry – started by Nies and wife Mary – has distributed more than 2,700 bikes to the needy in Lee County. They also provide them with meals, clothing, showers, laundry education and referrals to social agencies on particular days.
“There was a bike void for a long time,” said Dan Moser, a traffic safety and bike/pedestrian educator. “A lot of adults use the bikes for their primary transportation. The fire department used to put bikes together for Christmas. It’s a tough operation. They need a lot of space and there’s no payback. You need someone to support it and Ken’s real hands on.”
After volunteering at Lee Memorial and representing kids in court through Guardian Ad Litem, Mary and Ken started a soup kitchen, something Mary still continues. She’s helped hand out 37,000 meals.
“She’s my rock,” Nies said.
From that experience, the couple learned about the need for bicycles and how much homeless adults need them.
Ken Nies gets emotional when he talks of why this endeavor resonates for him.
“I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but I always had something to eat,” he said. “We’ve been blessed and we’re paying it forward.
“It just happened. It’s the last thing in the world I thought I’d do in 2001. I don’t own a bike. I refuse to ride down here. But we saw so many people with backpacks walking to work.”
It’s a Wednesday morning at CityGate Ministries and half a dozen men are fixing bikes in their shop, converted from a school. They include son Jeff, Ron Ellis, Rick Krakow, Vincent Hauser and Robert McCloud, 59, who has worked with Nies since he started the program.
In one room are extra pedals, grips, shifters, chains, kick stands, handlebars and brakes around the walls, while four stands anchor the middle to mount and replace the bikes.
“I love it,” said McCloud, who has been fascinated about the two-wheelers since he took apart, then put together, his first bike when he was 6. “Watching the kids and adults leave with a smile on their faces and knowing they’re leaving with a halfway decent bike makes me feel good.”
Bikes are donated by the city police and Lee County Sheriff’s Department as well as Billy’s in Sanibel, Trek, Schwinn and private companies. They also receive donations.
Upstairs, repaired bikes are in rooms, waiting to be delivered. Recently, Franklin Park Elementary, Hope Clubhouse, Abuse Counseling and Treatment Center of Southwest Florida, Fort Myers Rescue Mission, Grace Methodist Church, Community Cooperative Incorporated, Broadway Community Church and Abundant Grace Fellowship received bikes from the ministry.
Adults who want a bike have to work for it. They must put in eight hours of service with a nonprofit organization.
Fort Myers couple turn tragedy into action
“Members come to Hope Clubhouse to better their mental health and engage in recovery through work,” said Hillary Carney, a rehabilitation specialist. Hope Clubhouse has received approximately 15 bikes from Working Hands Ministry. “We all need to work, right? It gives people incentive.
“One of my favorite stories is of a young man who needed a bike who was living in a pretty remote area in North Fort Myers. He had relied on family members for transportation. He started to come here, received a bike and now he has the confidence to come here on his own.”
Nies brings out a huge binder listing letters from various nonprofit organizations verifying who donated their time. He then takes a picture of people with their bikes, their bike is identified and they receive a registration card to show police if they’re stopped.
“I give them the bike, a lock, a chain, a headlight and tail light,” Nies said. “It’s a $250 fine without a headlight and tail light.
“When they leave, I give them a hug. I may never see them again.”
At Franklin Park Elementary, Nies said there’s the chance of starting a program of teaching youths bike repair. Approximately 30 bikes have been donated to the school. A family of four boys received bikes around the holidays. The boy in fourth grade found out as bikes were trying to be secretly put in the family car.
“He said, ‘I can’t believe you bought all of us bikes for Christmas,’" said Francine Lutman, an intervention specialist for Franklin Park. “I said, ‘I believe it came from Santa.
“But it’s Ken. He’s always Santa.”
Related BikeWalkLee blog posts:
12/31/10: Bicycle Ministry in Fort Myers provides bikes to SWFAS women (Island Reporter)
4/29/10: Fort Myers ministry gives bicycles to homeless (News-Press article)