New bicycle program begins in Martinsville to help ex-convicts get jobs

Harvest Foundation awarded STEP $10,000 grant to purchase bicycles

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Tyrone Johnson currently works at Serendipity Coffee House and Bistro in Martinsville.

He walks to work every day.

"I did 30 days in June for child support. I lost everything," Johnson said.

Luckily, he lives nearby so he doesn't mind walking to work.

But having a bicycle will be nice.

"I'm not going to say it'll be less work, but it'll be quicker. I love the exercise," Johnson said, smiling.

Johnson is a member of STEP's re-entry program, which helps ex-convicts find jobs and housing.

STEP stands for Solutions That Empower People.

Melvin Johnson is the re-entry program coordinator.

"The problem we run into is, we can find them jobs but we don't have transportation for them," Johnson said.

The Harvest Foundation in Martinsville has just awarded STEP a $10,000 grant to purchase 32 bicycles.

Ex-convicts in the re-entry program will be able to lease a bicycle to get back and forth to work.

Johnson said having an opportunity like this is motivational for people in the program.

"It makes them feel better, it gives them a lot more stamina, and helps them to try to help themselves a lot more," he explained.

"I was thinking, like, 'STEP,' it's a step in the right direction. I feel like it will help take you to the next chapter in your life," Tyrone said.

Matthew Huckfeldt owns Chain of Fools bike shop in Martinsville.

The bikes will be stored at the shop and he'll repair them as needed.

"This sort of thing is part of why I even went into the bike business. A lot people see bikes as just toys, but they're really a lot more than that," Huckfeldt said. "They can change people's outlook on life and the way they see things. That, more than just being a plaything, is what got me excited about getting people on bikes."

For Tyrone, a bike is a new lease on life for him and his five children.

"I think about them all the time. I feel like that's my driving force," he said. "Not only for the program, but to help me get back on my feet and be a father again."

The bikes are expected to arrive sometime next week.