- Eric and Janet Baucom started by assembling and donating 10 bikes in their garage.
- They wanted to give a normal childhood experience to kids in foster care.
- To date, they have given away about 350 bikes and helmets.
For most kids, getting a new bike is almost a rite of passage in their families. But for those who have spent a big chunk of their childhood in the foster care system, having a bike of their own is usually the stuff of dreams, hard to imagine in a life often defined by instability and tumult.
Eric Baucom, ABR, CRS, and Janet Baucom are committed to making the dream a reality for foster children in and around their Ventura, Calif., community. The simple gift of a bike has the ability to make a kid’s life better, they say. In addition to providing recreation and fun, biking is an expression of control and freedom that’s likely missing in their lives.
The effort started as a Christmas project in the Baucoms’ garage in 2017. They spread the word to family, friends, and real estate associates about their plans to purchase, collect, and donate bikes to kids. They were able to give away new 57 bikes and helmets that first year. The following year they doubled the number, and were running the bike giveaway out of the back room of their real estate office.
Last year Project Bicycle Love became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and now the Baucoms work with child welfare agencies to encourage applications for bikes from foster parents, social workers, school counselors, and others. In total, they’ve donated more than 350 bikes and helmets, mostly around the holidays.
A Perfect Match
The Project Bicycle Love website has a nomination form for foster caregivers to fill out with the recipient’s information—age, preferred bike size and style, interests, and why they would benefit from a bike. The process ensures that kids receive the most suitable bike for them.
The Baucoms host a Build-a-Bike event annually before Christmas to assemble all of the bikes provided by a vendor at wholesale prices. Almost 200 volunteers come together to build, test ride, and put a bow on each bike to be gifted. They also write a personal note to each recipient.
Many of the kids receive their bikes during special holiday gatherings. Carrie McAuliffe, co-founder of Heart 2 Heart, an organization that donates items to foster families, hosts an annual Christmas event for foster kids to meet Santa and pick up the gifts from Project Bicycle Love. “The only way to help people heal is to give them positive experiences,” and it’s evident the Baucoms aid in that process when you see the children’s faces brighten at the sight of their big present, says McAuliffe.
Jaci Johnson, a program coordinator for Ventura County Foster Care, receives numerous bikes every year to give to the kids she finds homes for. She says the couple’s contribution makes children feel like they’re part of the family no matter how long the kids stay with them. “They’re somebody you can depend on,” she says. “I can call them up and ask for a favor, and it’s never, ‘No.’ It’s, ‘How can we help? Let’s see what we can do.’”
“The foster parents are the ones on the front line. They’re the ones doing the hard work, day in and day out. We’re just stepping in and providing a little something to bless their kids.” —Janet Baucom
Although wholesale bikes have been in shorter supply during the COVID-19 crisis, the Baucoms expect Project Bicycle Love will continue to be able to help, and are planning ways to expand their offerings. Janet envisions Birthday Bikes, a year-round project in which they gift an individual with a bicycle on their special day. “I think the need within our community is bigger than what we’ve seen. It’s ongoing. It doesn’t stop because we’ve given away a certain amount of bikes,” says Eric.
Bike donations are just part of the Baucoms’ commitment to giving back. They opened their brokerage Coastlands Real Estate Group in 2017 with the motto “Change homes. Change lives.” They donate 10% of each gross commission to a charity the client chooses, such as Habitat for Humanity or Forever Found, an organization that rescues and supports child trafficking victims. “They make real estate have a secondary purpose,” says Ronda Holden, their escrow officer.
But the Baucoms focus on bikes because cycling is their personal passion and they know that cycling can have an outsized impact on a child’s life, whether it’s promoting a healthy bond between a foster parent and child, enabling a teen to get to work and school independently, or allowing young kids to feel more connected to other bike-riding kids in their neighborhood. With all those scenarios in mind, the Baucoms go above and beyond to fulfill every request they get for someone in need.
For all the good they’re doing, though, the Baucoms are notably low-key about their contributions. “The foster parents are the ones on the front line. They’re the ones doing the hard work, day in and day out. We’re just stepping in and providing a little something to bless their kids,” Janet humbly says.
Earning Goose Bumps
Still, their volunteer efforts affect them deeply. Among their favorite experiences: A foster mom was in need of an adult tricycle for her autistic son who was in his 30s, but functioned as a 5-year-old. She had never been able to afford nor find one, but Project Bicycle Love sent one to the family so he could ride with the rest of his siblings.
Another memorable recipient: A woman was picking up a bike for her foster daughter accompanied by her biological daughter. The young girl was grateful for her gift, but when Eric asked who she was going to ride bikes with, the girl was unsure because “her sister” didn’t have one. Miraculously, Eric explained, he found one bike in the garage that was not accounted for on his inventory sheet, and it happened to be the sister’s size. Enabling both girls to have a bike, Eric says, gave him “goose bumps.”
“We can’t make a difference for all of the foster kids in the United States, but we can make a difference to the kids that are here,” Eric says. “Giving back and being a little point of significance in their life is the most rewarding part of it to me.”