The inspiration for Jamsquad sparked when Matt Buckleman, 42, noticed someone offloading bikes into a county landfill dumpster in 2014.
Buckleman, who lives in Bel Air, later recalled the sight while riding with two of his bicycling partners, Auggie Plitt, 32, and Jay Neighbours, 34. The three had previously bandied around ideas on how to organize a Harford-based competitive racing team and support a worthwhile charity. Now, an idea had gelled.
They launched Jamsquad, which rehabilitates used bicycles for needy youth, later that year.
A father of two, Buckleman knows well the expense and challenge of keeping always-growing children on bikes.
“We honestly believe that a bike can be a life changing thing for a child, or anyone for that matter,” he says. “We thought that there have got to be kids out there who would love to have a bike.”
They were right – at least based on the response to Jamsquad’s four years of collecting, restoring and delivering bikes. The group, now with 123 members, has donated 623 bikes during 15 events, during which they also share their love of riding and teach bike safety. Members meet several times a month to repair and clean donated bikes.
Their challenge was to locate children in need. For that, they turned to organizations like Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil. Through those connections, Jamsquad has donated bikes to children in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, the Epicenter at Edgewood, Harford County Public Schools and others.
Bari Klein, Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil’s acting executive director, sees cycling not just as a boost to physical activity, but as a way to visit friends and to reach libraries, playgrounds or schools that might be just beyond walking distance.
“We work to create a community where children are safe to ride to school,” says Klein. Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil teams with local governmental agencies to improve areas around schools; over the past seven years, 26 new bike racks and two new bike stations (with cement pads and new racks) have been added in front of local schools.
“That sends the visual message that bikes are welcome,” Klein says.
Christina Douglas, principal of Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen, says administrators have noticed an increase in children who bike to school since Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil and Jamsquad held a bike rodeo at the school last year. They believe it encourages attendance.
“We never saw bikes on our old bicycle racks. Now, even on cold days, there are three to five bikes there and eight to 10 in warmer weather,” she says. Jamsquad members are proud to help children overcome tough barriers, but they also take pride in simply bringing happiness to children who may not have a lot of possessions.
“We’ve had children jumping up and down and say ‘This is the best day of my life,’” says Buckleman.
Healthy Harford/Healthy Cecil plans to continue to help Jamsquad connect to bike riders, says Klein. “Jamsquad is a group of young people who saw a problem, figured out a solution and do it well.”