Many retirees view retirement as an opportunity to finally do things they didn’t have time to get to while working.
Scott Shepler is no different. After he retired in November 2010, he looked for ways to combine his interest in the Greenbelt trail, his biking hobby and his desire to give back to the community.
Shepler found his answer in Trips for Kids, a national non-profit that provides mountain biking trips and environmental education for disadvantaged kids. He started a local chapter, based out of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Harrisburg, and the project quickly took on wheels of its own.
Recycle Bicycle, a local organization that refurbishes bikes for people who need them, provided Shepler with the bicycles he needed, and the city of Harrisburg gave him a garage at Reservoir Park to house bikes.
Shepler started taking city kids for rides on the 18.5-mile Greenbelt trail last fall, and interest has grown to the point where leads as many as three groups a week in the summer. The kids are funneled into the program from Harrisburg Department of Recreation camps, various chapters of the Boys and Girls’ club, and the Danzante Urban Arts center, and range in age from 10 to 18.
These cycling trips provide Shepler with an opportunity to be both friend and role model, but he stops short of calling himself a mentor.
“At this point, mentor is too strong a word,” Shepler said. “I’m trying to instruct and share experiences with them.”
The trips aren’t just bike rides. As the contingent goes around the Greenbelt, Shepler takes the opportunity to point out historical areas and identify wildlife.
“The local history of the trail is fascinating. There are landmarks you can point out. The Rutherford House and the barn was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Most of those kids are African American, and it’s something I’m able to share with them and say, ‘Look history was made here. People came here way north to escape slavery.’” Shepler said.
The kids also gain some practical knowledge. Before every ride, Shepler shows them how to do a standard bike check to ensure their tires, brakes and chain are all in good working order.
He’s currently looking for ways to expand the program because there are limits to what he can do on his own. Standard procedure requires that one adult has to ride with every four kids, so it’s difficult to take more than eight to 12 kids out at once.
“The next evolution of this is, ‘How can there be regular rides for these kids?’” Shepler said, explaining that because the Boys’ and Girls’ club tries to service as many kids as possible, it’s rare that a kid will get to ride more than once.
That makes it difficult for him to develop lasting bonds with kids, and that’s why he stops short of calling himself a mentor to them.
“How do I transform this into something where I can establish better relationships with them by taking the same kids out over and over again? I’ve got to figure out a way to do that. It hasn’t been the focus so far,” Shepler said.
After all, like everything else, volunteerism is a numbers game, and when it comes to working with inner city youth, the volunteer is faced with the dilemma of figuring out whether it’s better to make a small impact in the lives of many kids, or to devote a large amount of time to a select few kids.
He’s working on getting all the resources he needs, but in time, Shepler would like to do it all.