By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times
AMBRIDGE — More than a dozen student volunteers grabbed the handlebars Friday morning and worked to assemble 50 bicycles for foster children about to reach self-independence.
The students, who belong to a University of Pittsburgh PittServes program called Jumpstart, broke into small teams at Allison Park Church in Ambridge with a stack of cardboard Huffy boxes scattered throughout the large room.
The nonprofit Together We Rise, which helps to improve the lives of children in foster care, donated the bikes to the church for one of its annual Serve Day outreach programs, but the charity left some manual assembly required.
Bethany Jarmul, who handles public relations for Allison Park Church, said it had never before held a bicycle assembly outreach program.
“Children are the future, and it’s important for us to have programs and give back to our communities,” Jarmul said. “Foster-care children usually can’t afford a car after emancipation and don’t have means of transportation.”
The church takes part in the annual Serve Day, formerly known as Servolution, with hundreds of other congregations nationwide. While talking about the meaning of the outreach project, Thomas Manning, director of Allison Park Church’s Ambridge campus, paraphrased part of Matthew 20:28 that reads, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
“In the past, we’ve given backpacks to children, paid for customers’ ice cream at an ice cream shop, brought people groceries and served people breakfast at a bus stop,” Manning said. “We’re happy PittServes students came to partner with us.”
PittServe’s Jumpstart discovered Allison Park Church’s Serve Day project from a grant application by the Network of Hope and decided to take part, said Christine Chua, a student executive of Jumpstart.
Network of Hope functions as a nonprofit connected to Allison Park Church’s main campus, Ambridge campus, Deer Lakes campus and its soon-to-be-opened Butler campus.
Julie Mikus, who serves as director for the decades-old entity, said this year’s Serve Day consists of more than 30 outreach projects, which range from lot beautification in Homewood to working on a garden that feeds local refugees in Troy Hill.
“The vision of Serve Day is to communicate the love of God in a real and tangible way and to reach those who are hurting or lost,” Mikus said.
Mikus estimated that 1,000 volunteers would turn out for the projects over the weekend, and the Pitt students in Jumpstart ranked among the first of them, beginning their work at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
“We usually work with kids in low-income areas,” Chau said. “We can only do service projects on Friday because we work with preschoolers from Monday to Thursday for kindergarten preparedness.”
However, not everyone in Jumpstart volunteers on the basis of being an education major. Several volunteers major in the sciences and other nonpedagogical studies.
“A lot of it is helping people from low-income areas,” said Sid Dash, who studies biology at Pitt.
The project presented many of the student volunteers with their first opportunity to assemble a bike straight from the box. Unlike home assembly, instruction manuals proved a must, at least for the first one.
“It’s my first time assembling a whole bike, but not the first time putting on a wheel,” Pitt student Robert Brown-Gartei said.
“We haven’t really had experience with assembling bikes, but we are happy to learn,” Chau said.
The bicycles came in two styles: a white street bicycle with sea-foam-green accented tires and a black mountain bike with streaks of an intense forest green.