The surprised grins on the faces of Sergio Leanos and Dazhaun Stallings was all the payment that Paul Watson needed.
Watson, a 15-year-old freshman at Van Horn High School, presented the pair of third graders at Fairmount Elementary with a pair of free bicycles on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Watson has been taking bikes donated to the school, fixing them up and then presenting them to less fortunate children in the Independence School District. A little more than two weeks before he gave the bikes to Sergio, 9, and Dazhaun, 8, he presented four bikes to other students at Fairmount.
"The best part is to see the kids smile," Watson said of presenting the bikes to the students. "I like to see them smile and have fun on them. I just get the happiest feeling."
Van Horn vice principal Justin Woods discovered that Watson had a penchant for fixing bikes earlier in the school year, so as part of his life skills class, Watson takes bikes that are donated to the school and fixes them in a storage room – now dubbed "Paul's Bike Repair Shop" on a sign made for him by fellow students – in Van Horn's lower level to present to the children. Elementary students in the school district write letters as part of a class project explaining why they need a bike.
Watson and school officials determine which students are in most need of a bike from the letters and select the students to receive them.
"He's really good with the kids. ... They love him," Woods said. "He likes to ride around the parking lot with the kids and show them how to do things."
Watson said he loves fixing bikes and loves that he can do a small part to make the kids' lives a little better.
"It's just to give back to the community, because I remember when I was little I didn't always have a bike," he said of why he does it. "... I just want to give back to these kids who don't have a bike."
Watson said he started tinkering with bicycles as far back as age 2 with help from his father and his uncles. He quickly realized he had a knack for working with bikes and fixing them.
"I just started toying around with bikes and seeing what works and what didn't work – just taking them apart, fixing it and putting it back together," said Watson, who estimates he has fixed about 20 bicycles so far and given them to other students.
Woods said the school – because of an Independence School District Facebook post that received about 40,000 views and more than 200 shares – recently received about 20 donated bikes and continues to get more donated every day as word had spread about Watson's efforts. Woods said the school had just received a call about donating four more last week. The school also receives donations of bicycle parts.
"We also get a lot of bikes from Kmart and Wal-Mart that people have returned and there might be one thing wrong with it and they don't want to mess with them, so they give them to us, and Paul fixes them up," Woods said.
Sergio and Dazhaun were the latest to have their letters selected to receive the bikes. Dazhaun explained in his letter that his bike had been stolen and that he wanted a new bike so he could ride it to school with his best friend Gerald and race his friends and cousins. Sergio explained that he once had a bike but it broke and he needed one to ride to school and help with shopping for the family and that his parents work too hard to have time to go purchase a bike for him.
Sergio and Dazhaun sported large smiles when they were presented the bikes by Watson, while Betsy MacLaughlin, Fairmount's family school liaison, and Principal Jeff Anger presented the children with new helmets.
"I feel happy because I haven't been able to ride because I haven't had a bike for a long time," Sergio said.
Watson said he thinks of children like Dazhaun and Sergio when he is in his shop fixing them.
"When I'm down here, I just imagine these kids riding their bikes wherever they're at, either at the park, or just even around their block," Watson said. "I just feel good about it because whenever I do see them outside, they might see me walking up and down the street somewhere, and they're like, 'Hey, thanks for my bike!' And I'll just say, 'You're welcome.' Makes me feel pretty good about what I'm doing."
Watson said he has become around Van Horn for his prowess with bikes.
"They know me as the kid who works on the bikes," Watson said. "I'm always pretty happy about what I'm doing too. ... It's relaxing and it's fun at the same time. ... Everybody in my school is happy that I've been doing this for these kids, and I feel pretty good about it too."
Watson said he is not sure whether he will one day open a bicycle shop and continue doing what he loves. For now, he's just thinking of the kids who don't have a bike.
"(For a kid not to have a bike) it would be a sad thing because whenever you're playing around with your friends and they all have brand new bikes and you don't, you feel bad for the ones who don't," he said. "So that's why I do this stuff for them, why I fix these bikes for them.
"... That makes me feel pretty good to be honest. It's pretty fun giving these bikes away."