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Volunteers Provide Freedom To People In Recovery Through Bicycles

Lucas Willard
Chris Collins and Max Jaskoski deliver a bicycle in Glens Falls, New York

As law enforcement adapts to the growing heroin and addiction crisis, members of local communities are finding new ways to help those in recovery get back on their feet. One group based in upstate New York is distributing bicycles to help people get to work or to meetings and restore a sense of independence.

It’s a sunny morning in mid-May in Glens Falls — the kind of day that would be perfect for a bike ride. But for Chris Collins, today means delivering a bike with his pick-up truck.  

“Max, you ready? All right!”

On break from his job as a manager at a café at Glens Falls Hospital, Collins and his employee Max walk to the truck where a bicycle is ready to be delivered. Collins is a founder of a group called Freedom Machines, which provides bikes to people in recovery.

“It provides a means of transportation to start your life back over again,” said Collins.

Collins is in recovery himself and he found biking is a good way to not only get around but also relieve stress.

“Sometimes in recovery you get overwhelmed. A lot of people are going to a meeting every day and they’re going to treatment and they kind of get stuck in that whole world,” said Collins. “And you know you have to find a balance in your life. And biking helped me, just getting away from it for a little while, you know, clearing your head, thinking about what you had to do for the day. It’s a good stress relief and I wound up in really good shape too.”

Freedom Machines has been operating for about six months and today Collins and Max are dropping off the group’s 100th bicycle. As well as some balloons.

It’s not a far drive from the hospital to where today’s recipient, Cassie Walczak, lives.

“I get balloons even?! Look at that, Max, I get the hundredth bike!”

The new bike will replace another in bad shape that Collins helped her get.

When she entered recovery, Walczak was without a car and needed a way to get to work. At first she relied on family and friends. Sober for 21 months, she knows how difficult it can be for somebody just starting to get back on their feet.  

“It’s hard to find help to find somebody that can get you to where you need to go,” said Walczak. “And sometimes people feel stressed out having to rely on somebody, so when you have a bike you don’t have to rely on anybody. You feel good about that.”

Many people entering recovery are without vehicles, either due to a revoked license or because they cannot afford a car. 

Collins says Freedom Machines brings bikes to individuals free of charge, but they must show a commitment to recovery. Generally, that means somebody who has been clean for at least 90 days.

While the delivery was a short trip on this morning, Collins will bring bikes as far as an hour away. A day earlier he delivered one to Schenectady.

He relies on his small group of volunteers now but Collins has plans to expand Freedom Machines.

“My vision would be to make it into like a co-op where if you wanted a bike you came and worked for three or four hours, learned how to fix your bike, and then you got a free bike,” said Collins. “So, you know, you’re helping out and learn a trade while you’re at it too.”

And anyone who gets a bike is also invited take a group ride with others in recovery.

“So if we can just show people a different way of living, you know? Of healthy lifestyles, it’s kind of what we’re promoting. A sober, healthy lifestyle,” said Collins. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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