Unemployment continues to be one of the biggest struggles veterans face after exiting the military. Whether it’s due to emotional distress, physical injury, or financial hardship, many veterans are unable to land a job. Making matters worse, there are far too few programs that veterans can look to for help.
Fortunately, one Metro Detroiter’s has a simple, yet genius, answer to this problem: “Give them a bike”. It may not sound like much, but Bikes for Vets is the real-deal. It eliminates the one of the largest barriers to employment, transportation. The cost of maintaining and insuring a car is very high in Michigan. If a person cannot afford a car, they have no way of getting to work unless he/she relies on someone else for a ride. When you are dependent on someone else to get you to work, there are always scheduling conflicts that will force you to be late or miss work.
Bikes for Vets aims to solve this money and dependency issue. By providing a vet virtually free transportation, they can arrive to work on a consistent basis. Add this to the large public bus systems of Metro Detroit, and you can provide people with a fast, reliable, rock-bottom priced method of transportation.
Bill Mowder, the creator of the Bikes for Vets program, said the idea suddenly hit him one day as he was watching a person load his bike on to the front of a public bus. As an Americorps Navigator, he is assisting veterans every single day. Yet, he thought there was more to be done, particularly with finding them transportation.
Traditional transportation assistance involves helping veterans with car expenses, but as we know, this can be expensive. For example, for a veteran to get assistance on a car repair he must get two certified estimates and verification of car insurance. Most veterans cannot even afford the mechanic inspections, let alone car insurance payments. On average, the cost of inspection, parts, and service totals to about $900.00.
The Bikes for Vets solution, on the other hand, is cost-effective and easy. Bill found that most people in the Metro Detroit area live within 10 miles of where they work. In addition to this, public busing systems are available in most areas and all Metro Detroit buses are fitted with a bike rack. These circumstances allow for biking to be a realistic option of transportation.
With the help of the local store D&D Bicycles and Hockey, he was able to purchase a reliable bike at an affordable price. At $437.00, a veteran receives a bike, helmet, kickstand, rack, and bike lock so they are ready to hit the road the next day. D&D Bicycles and Hockey has several locations around the Metro Detroit area including Northville and Westland.
The program’s first four participants gave rave reviews of the concept, namely the health and work benefits. One man was able to arrive to work on-time consistently and finally get 40 hours a week. A woman reported her 22 mile-a-day ride allowed her to lose 7 pounds in just a week of work.
Besides the obvious physical health benefits, veterans also reported better mental health from participating in Bikes for Vets. By avoiding car payments and maintenance, their stress levels are significantly reduced. This saved money allows them to pay their bills, building their self-esteem.
Since the first test of concept, he has given bikes to 15 veterans thus far. Private donations have allowed this program to flourish. Bill expects that as awareness increases, the program will quickly spread statewide, and hopefully throughout the country.