By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – It’s said that a person never forgets how to ride a bike.
Now, two De Pere boys want to give kids in foster care a chance to make memories of their own by giving them their own bikes.
Ben Nusbaum and Brett Weckwerth, sixth graders at Foxview Intermediate School in De Pere, took note when they heard about an organization called Together We Rise.
It’s a national nonprofit based in California whose focus is to make the lives of foster kids better.
The pair, with the help of their families and social networks, raised around $1,300 in just over a month to buy 10 bicycles, 10 bike helmets and 10 bike locks through the nonprofit, which provides the bicycles at a discount over regular retail.
“The goal originally was $650,” Ben’s mom, Carissa Nusbaum, said.
Slow to start
At first, donations were small and slow in coming. Then the boys’ former hockey coach, Bill LaBelle, threw in $100, and that spurred a trend. Bigger donations flowed in.
“I thought if everyone just donated $15 or $20, it would be no problem, but then people started donating $50 and $100, and it was like ‘Holy Cow!’” Nusbaum said.
Ben’s attention was elsewhere for a short time, so it shocked him to see the jump in progress.
“I was at Y camp for a week and didn’t hear anything about it until I came home and found out we got all these donations,” he said.
In the midst of it, Brett had a birthday party and asked guests to donate to the bicycle cause in lieu of bringing birthday presents.
He got the idea from another friend who asked guests for donations of food for a local shelter instead of presents, according to Tiffany Weckwerth, Brett’s mom.
“Doing good is good for kids,” Weckwerth said. “They get so much all of the time; it’s good that they’re learning how to give back and to think about someone other than themselves. They’re so one-sided at this point in life.”
With a little help from their friends
Ben and Brett’s hockey network, family members, along with their friends and those of their parents, accounted for the lion’s share of donations.
“They (the boys) know so many people, it’s just crazy,” Nusbaum said. “People didn’t donate because of Tiffany or me — they donated because they know Ben and Brett.”
Nusbaum said most of the donation solicitation took place on Facebook, which minimized the work for donors and those in charge of asking for donations.
“Once we said ‘We’re really close to our goal, we only have $10 to go’ then more donations started flowing in — people would say ‘Here’s $50,’” Weckwerth said.
The excitement inspired 9-year-old Abby Nusbaum to get involved with her own endeavor.
She spearheaded a birthday box project, decorating boxes and filling them with cake mixes, frosting, sprinkles and other treats.
“Sometimes kids in foster care don’t get to celebrate their birthday,” she explained.
Together We Rise connected the De Pere group with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Brown County, a local nonprofit that monitors the safety and well being of children in foster care and represents them in dealing with the court system and human services department.
CASA will ensure the bikes and birthday boxes make their way to foster children.
Together We Rise helps volunteers and groups do a number of things to improve the lives of children in foster care.
One is decorating duffel bags and filling them with care-package items for foster kids, so they have something in which to transport their belongings when they relocate.
According to Together We Rise, many foster kids end up carrying their stuff in plastic garbage bags.
The nonprofit also provides the materials to build skateboards for foster kids.
Because Ben and Brett enjoy building things and had recently built a skateboard box, Nusbaum said she thought they’d choose the skateboard-building project.
“I thought it would be right up their alley,” she said.
But when they learned they could obtain bicycles for a reasonable price, they decided to take the project by the handle bars.
Party with a purpose
On Saturday, Oct. 6, about 40 of Ben and Brett’s friends and their families showed up at Carissa and Bill Nusbaums’ house in De Pere to unpack the bikes, put them together, and have a few snacks.
They made a temporary mess of the Nusbaums’ garage as they busily tightened bolts and pumped up tires.
But unlike with IKEA furniture assembly, no one ended up with a suspect pile of spare parts left over.
“This is pretty amazing,” said mom Joy Zunker, surveying the sight of kids engaged in their tasks.
Zunker showed up with her husband Adam and three kids, Owen, 11, Elizabeth, 9, and Luke, 4, all of whom play hockey.
“It’s really great that kids are thinking of other people and asking for donations in lieu of presents. I don’t think I was thinking about other people when I was their age,” she said.
But learning to spend their Saturday afternoons working on behalf of others will no doubt be something they’ll never forget how to do.
Just like riding a bike.