Last December, 176 foster children in Cuyahoga County received shiny new bicycles as a special holiday gift. The bikes had been assembled as a community service project led by Jennifer and Michael Portschy of Solon.
The Portschys are now preparing for their fourth Build a Bike for Foster Kids event. They are collecting donations for the bicycle parts, which will be assembled by volunteers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at Players i Baseball Academy, 7250 Northfield Road in Walton Hills. Tim Stacey of Solon, who owns the academy, is donating the space for the project.
“We’re going to try for 200 bikes,” said Mrs. Portschy, a 2000 graduate of Solon High School. “We want to make these kids smile. They’re living with strangers and their Christmas is not the best they’ve had. For a kid, there’s no cooler gift than a bicycle.”
Just over a year ago, the Portschys adopted their daughter Riley, 3, formerly a foster child. “She came to us as a newborn with a plan to go home,” Mrs. Portschy, 37, recalled. “She didn’t go home, and when she was 18 months, we were asked if we would be interested in adopting her. We said, ‘of course.’” The couple, who also have two biological children – Grace, 5, and Joey, 2 – plan to take in another foster child if the need arises.
“Usually you think of a foster child as being a teen,” Mrs. Portschy said. “Because of the opioid crisis, a lot of foster kids are young. There are a lot of toddlers, and even newborns, being put into foster care.” There are now nearly 2,900 children in foster care in Cuyahoga County.
About four years ago, Mrs. Portschy stumbled upon Build a Bike for Foster Kids on Facebook and immediately felt the need to participate. Since the first year, when the Portschys worked with 40 volunteers to assemble 53 bicycles, the numbers of donations, volunteers and bicycles have steadily risen.All of the bicycles assembled this year will once again be donated to foster children through Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services.
Build a Bike is a project of Together We Rise, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization in California. Comprised of young adults and former foster youth, the organization aims to improve the lives of foster children in America.
The Portschys are holding a fundraiser now through Nov. 15 to order materials for the bikes. They aim to raise $15,000 to build 200 bicycles.
“A bike costs $75, but partial donations are welcome,” Mrs. Portschy said. “We encourage people to donate even if they cannot attend the building event as we have ample volunteers. We do ask those who wish to volunteer to take ownership by making a donation.” She also encourages volunteers to bring their children. “The kids will see it’s not just a donation. You’re building a bicycle, and they’re doing it for another kid.”
Last year, the county needed two trucks to pick up all the bikes, and then had to store them. This year, the county asked social workers to select families to receive the donations. The families have been asked to come to the event to pick up the bikes for their foster children.
“Two years ago, we had a family of 10 children, which included a foster sibling group of seven,” Mrs. Portschy said. “They were nominated as one of the most deserving families and the bikes were given to all 10 children.”
Bicycle supplies come in three parts: the base, the handle bars and the wheels. For the most part the bikes have been easy to assemble, Mrs. Portschy said. The simpler bikes for small and medium-size children take just 10 minutes each. About one-fourth of the bicycles have gears for older children and teens and take about an hour to build. Mr. Portschy and others with experience check all of the bicycles before they are distributed.
“You do not need any prior knowledge to assemble the bikes,” Mrs. Portschy said. “If you have them, please bring a wrench, bike pump, scissors, Allen wrench set and screwdrivers.”
Mrs. Portschy, a graduate of Kent State University, is a nurse at University Hospitals of Cleveland. Mr. Portschy, 42, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin and received his master’s degree at Mount Marty College in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a nurse anesthetist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Regarding the now annual fundraiser, Mrs. Portschy commented, “It’s become quite a thing and I’m proud. People ask, ‘You’re doing this again next year, aren’t you?’ By the time the next year rolls around, I’m doing it. It’s fun to see all the people building bikes that will make the foster kids so happy. It’s a good feeling.”