Auto shop

Do you have an unused bike in your garage? Students at Jacob Hespeler’s auto shop are ready to fix them for families in need

Hespeler High School students repair the bikes and then give them back to the community

Jacob Hespeler Secondary School, Cambridge (JHSS) is once again seeking bicycle donations for its annual community bicycle program.

Students from JHSS’s Auto Shop program repair bikes for the program, led by auto shop teacher John Ottama. The bikes are then returned to the community.

Over the past four years they have repaired over 30 bikes and donated them to families in need.

“When the program started, I spread the word about the bikes and started fixing them,” Ottama said. “At that time there was a thrift shop in Preston that was donating to Argus Residence for Young People. I dropped off a bunch of bikes for them.

Anna Cleverley from Cambridge is helping Ottama collect bikes for the program.

“All bikes are now donated to Family2Family, a non-profit organization in Cambridge. We are also considering working with other organizations,” Cleverley said.

“Thank you all for the amazing response so far.”

Ottama said Cleverley has helped encourage bicycle donations.

“She got the ball rolling. School staff also helped spread the word in their neighborhoods,” Ottama said.

“Anna also found Family2Family. They have a list of people waiting for bikes. It works perfectly. If there is someone who needs a bike, we can bring them back to the community.

Bikes in all conditions are accepted.

“If we can fix it, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll use it for parts,” he said.

“It’s a great program because the students learn and, at the same time, give back to the community. This is especially good for toddlers who so quickly outgrow the bikes. We can fix a bike and give it to someone who needs it, and they can have a bike for the summer.

Students in grades 9 through 12 participate in the community bike program.

“Students learn how to adjust the brakes and mount and dismount a tire on bicycles. If your tire goes flat, there is a cost, and maintaining a bike also takes time. So students get those skills,” Ottama said.

“We also do that with lawnmowers, how to sharpen the blade, and how to do an oil change and a seasonal tune-up. Students also learn how to change car tires and how to change oil. These are all great skills to have, and they save money.

Ottama has been teaching the auto shop program at the school for over 22 years.

Before becoming a teacher, he worked as a truck mechanic for twenty years.

“I would say about 85% of students who take the course don’t want to be mechanics, but they learn basic skills that are transferable in life,” Ottama said.

Students of all grades enjoy participating in the community bike program.

“The students get on it and put the bikes in motion. Watching them ride the small children’s bikes is fun, but they have to try them. I can’t let them drive a car yet, but they can all ride a bike,” Ottama said.

Last year during COVID-19, Ottama made a special effort to repair as many bikes as possible.

“I came anyway because I didn’t want to stay at home. The bikes were just sitting in the store. We had a dozen bikes sitting there so I went in and finished them off so we could get them out for the summer,” Ottama said.

For anyone who has a bike to donate, it can be left at the auto shop behind the JHSS building.

“Another load of bicycles has just arrived. I will find more storage if needed. During the winter months no one is giving away bikes, so it gives us something to work on during that time and prepares us again for spring,” Ottama said.

He said the program offers a “win-win” for everyone.

“I share certain skills and the students acquire new skills. Ultimately, we can help someone who can’t afford a bike.