Once children entered the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club Hawthorne Unit in Independence, they shrieked in excitement.
Rows of bicycles stretching from one end of the gym to the other greeted the Boys & Girls members as they arrived Friday evening. The kids were all astonished to see such an assortment of bikes and they wondered, what they were for?
It turns out these children received an early Christmas present by none other than a 13-year-old Boy Scout named Austin Miller.
“Everyone needs a bike,” said Miller.
The Osage Trail Middle School student and members of his Boy Scout Troop 204 donated 75 bikes, both new and used, for children of all ages who attend the Hawthorne Unit of the Boys & Girls Club at 16995 Dover Lane in Independence. From little bikes with training wheels for tykes to deluxe 20-speed racing bicycles for teenagers, Miller amassed the collection of varied bikes over a four-month span.
“Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and some people we didn’t even know,” said Austin’s father, Steve Miller, regarding who donated the used portion of bikes. “Some bikes were even just placed on our front yard at times.”
Austin is wanting to become an Eagle Scout, and in order to do so, he must reach out to his community and help them in some way. He says the son of his father’s longtime friend Tom McDermott suggested the idea of donating bikes. From then on out, he brought the suggestion to fruition. According to his father, Austin distributed fliers about his project and asked friends and families to spare some bikes for the cause back in October. Some 53 used bikes were eventually collected and Austin, along with members of Troop 204, spent a full working day to repair the donations.
“The used bikes required inner tubes, brake adjustments, new seats, new handgrips, reflectors, and general oiling,” said Steve, who is also the leader of his son’s troop. “They were also cleaned and then inventoried and cataloged.” Austin also mentioned that he spent his own time either after school or on weekends to repair the used bikes. Both he and his father said McDermott Moving Company purchased an additional 22 brand new bicycles for the collection as well.
The week before the bicycles were delivered, Austin tells that he approached the Hawthorne unit director, Hannah Odette, about his donation plan and she ultimately agreed.
“I once attended this (Boys and Girls) club back when I was in the second grade,” Austin said.
“It is great what he is doing because it helps out a number of disadvantaged kids,” says Odette. “This maybe their only Christmas present this year.”
And on Friday late afternoon, a McDermott Moving Company truck arrived at the Hawthorne building to deliver the 75 bicycles.
“The kids were unaware of this,” says Boys and Girls Club Director of Marketing, Sharon Cleaver. “It was fantastic that Austin had fond memories of The Boys & Girls Club and decided to give back.”
"What do you say to Mr. Austin Miller?" Odette asked the B&G Club members in attendance.
"Thank you!" they all said in ear-deafening unison.
Despite the number of different bicycles, nearly a hundred children were eligible to receive one. So a raffle drawing was established and the Boys & Girls Club members were issued raffle tickets by Troop 204 scouts inside Hawthorne Unit’s gymnasium. Austin then called out numbers that were on the tickets and a child holding the matching one could select their very own bike first.
“This is so cool,” says Boys & Girls Club member, Cameron Basinski, as he rode away with a green, new bicycle. He explained that he was in need of a new bike because his old one had flat tires.
Both Cleaver and Odette say siblings of B&G Club members will be paired up if one was selected to receive a bicycle. Plus they hope every boy or girl who won will share their bikes since virtually all of the Hawthorne Unit’s members reside in the same housing development.
As for Austin, he says he is still a few merit badges shy of becoming an Eagle Scout. “But I’ll get it someday,” he says. The Boy Scout also added that it felt great to coordinate an effort of such magnitude.
“We’re very proud of him for taking on such a big undertaking,” said Steve.