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Volunteers help United Way build bikes for kids in need

Sweat drips from Jake Kalkbrenner as he works hard pumping the tires on children's bikes that he helped build Wednesday at the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania's annual Build-a-Bike event at Cranberry Township Community Park. The bikes will be given to children in need throughout five counties, including Butler County. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — On a hot Wednesday morning, 50 volunteers returned to Jaycees Shelter at Cranberry Township Community Park to lend some hands-on help to United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Build-a-Bike project.

Volunteers from a number of partnering local companies and organizations worked together in teams to put together children’s bicycles from kits. The bikes will be distributed to the Butler YMCA’s child care program and Butler Area School District for those in need.

The program as a whole, spanning three days across Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties, will put together 300 bikes. The Butler County branch assembled 100 of those bikes Wednesday morning, as volunteers from MSA, Westinghouse, XTO Energy, Mars Bank, and NexTier Bank teamed up.

“We look through our partner list and invite companies to participate as part of their volunteer engagement with employees,” said Amy Franz, regional vice president of United Way of Southwestern PA.

The bikes are 20-inch children's bikes, and are a good fit for elementary school students, Franz said.

Justin Macken, with Equitrans, checks the wheel spin Wednesday on a child's bicycle at the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania's annual Build-a-Bike event at Cranberry Township Community Park. The bikes will be provided, at no cost, to children in need across five counties, including Butler County. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

“This is a good partnership—Huffy (the bike manufacturer) has a partnership where we can buy the bikes directly from them,” she said. “Each bike will come with a helmet and a lock, so that they’re able to ride safely.”

Volunteers and companies often return to participate in the program multiple years in the row, Franz said, adding that there is “still a huge amount of enthusiasm” for the program.

“The people that are coming out and seeing one another, it’s almost like a reunion, or a birthday party if you will. It’s very joyous,” she said. “They’re excited to see each other. We did a show of hands, and I think about half of the people had been here before.”

Lindsay Macken with the United Way checks bicycle seat height Wednesday at the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania's annual Build-a-Bike event at Cranberry Township Community Park while Jim Stumbaugh, a Westinghouse volunteer, fills tires and Greg Vucina, also a Westinghouse volunteer, makes final handle bar adjustments in Cranberry Township. The bikes will be given away to kids who need new rides. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
Volunteering teams

Becky Gales, corporate risk manager with MSA, was one of the returning volunteers. She and her team had attended and volunteered at Build-a-Bike in 2021. MSA brought 15 volunteers to the event this year, spanning multiple departments.

Participating associates were big fans of the event, she said.

“We did this event last year, and it was so well attended,” she said. “The feedback that we got from our associates that completed the event was just tremendous.”

Putting together the bikes was easy, even if a volunteer didn’t have mechanical experience, she added.

“It’s a really heartwarming feeling to know that 100 bikes are going to get distributed within our communities to kids who might not otherwise have that opportunity,” she said. “It’s team building and helping the community—all things that we love.”

Holly Hannold, public and government affairs manager at XTO Energy, said the company had a mix of new and returning participants this year.

“We’ve got a good team,” she said. “Obviously, we do a lot of engineering in our company, so this was a perfect fit for us to get involved in the community and take a break from our day job to do something really meaningful.”

Now that fewer COVID restrictions are in place, the company has returned to participating in more volunteer programs such as this one, she said.

“This one’s a natural one because it’s outside,” she said. “We did it last year even though things were still somewhat locked down, but because it was outdoors, we were able to kind of make it work.”

Darla Livermore, senior vice president and director of human resources at NexTier Bank, was one volunteer attending for the first time with her team. Livermore herself serves on the board of the Southwestern PA United Way branch.

“We’re a community bank that gives back,” she said. “We like to be hands-on to help the community and to make a difference, and we encourage all our employees to participate.”

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