Four years ago, Marcus Fetch had nothing to lose. The young Nebraska native was a drifter, moving from town to town picking up construction jobs when he needed money. At 24, he landed in Birmingham, Alabama, not knowing a soul. What happened next was fate in the making.
He saw a need.
Having lived on the road, meeting people from all socioeconomic groups, Marcus felt compassion for others living in poverty. He saw them struggle with what should be basic amenities – busses running late, bus routes that didn’t jive with personal schedules. If they had bikes, he thought, they could go places. Their world would become much larger with more opportunities.
The idea took root when Marcus came across a Craigslist ad selling 40 bikes in bulk. He bought the entire lot and, with little more than a high school diploma and a nagging idea to provide affordable bicycles to those in need, he founded Redemptive Cycles.
That was four years ago. Today, the nonprofit bike program takes shape in a brick-and-mortar building in downtown Birmingham. It serves as a retail store selling refurbished bikes, a repair shop, and a bike donation center.
It’s the programs that set Redemption Cycles apart from other bike shops. The nonprofit offers an Earn-A-Bike Program where those who cannot afford a bike can put in volunteer hours at Redemptive Cycles or a partner business to earn a bike. Last year alone, Redemptive Cycles put more than 150 “butts in bikes.”
For those who already have bikes, maintaining them can be expensive. The nonprofit offers a Sliding Scale program for low-income individuals, offering discounts from 25 percent to 100 percent off the cost of service. Last year, Redemptive Cycles provided more than $20,000 worth of free or discounted bicycle repairs to more than 500 people.
The shop also offers monthly mechanics classes to the general public at a cost of $5 per class and a four-week master mechanics class for $100. Riders can take advantage of the shop’s free, fully equipped public work station stocked with all the tools needed to fix a bike, including a bike repair stand, free chain lube, and a nearby volunteer to offer free advice.
To help build on the community aspect of cycling, Redemptive Cycles holds several weekly rides for people of all ages and skill levels, including Trample and Tour de Ham.
“We wanted to be a welcoming place, a place where relationships are built,” Marcus says. “A lot of these people don’t have a supportive relationship in their life, a good confidant or friend. We wanted to offer that. Give them a second place to call home.”
The success of Redemptive Cycles is evident in the visitors, many of whom are Earn-A-Bike program recipients, and peddle in for regular visits. Those with the financial means have patronized the shop and utilized the repair services, enabling the business to generate three quarters of its operating costs. The other 25 percent is made up through grants and donations.
This year, Redemptive Cycles was named the beneficiary of the Birmingham Corporate Challenge. The event brings together employees from local businesses to compete in competitions such as tug-of-war, dodge ball and obstacle courses. This year, nearly 50 teams and 3,500 people participated, including 170 Protective Life Corporation employees.
Teams earn points in the various competitions, but can also earn extra points by donating new or used bikes, equipment or money to Redemptive Cycles.
“Redemptive Cycles was chosen because the charity serves Birmingham residents, focuses on relationships and community, and promotes health and wellness specifically through biking,” says Suzanne Alvarez, Corporate Challenge’s director of marketing and culture. “Most companies involved in the Birmingham Corporate Challenge were not familiar with Redemptive Cycles, so this has been a great opportunity to share their story and bring awareness to the 4-year-old nonprofit.”
Jimmie Bottcher, Protective’s wellness director, says she had never heard of the nonprofit organization before getting involved with the Corporate Challenge. “When I learned more about Redemptive Cycles, I was impressed by the work they do to benefit the community. Many of our employees donated bikes to the cause, helping our team earn the most points in the philanthropic division.”
The charitable giving points and the employees’ hard work helped earned Protective the Division 3 Championship for the second year in a row. Blue Cross and Blue Shield came in second, and Brasfield and Gorrie placed third.
“I’m very proud of everyone who came out and helped us compete at the Birmingham Corporate Challenge. It was a fun event and even better that our hard work went to support such a good cause,” Bottcher said.