Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Another reason I love Axletree

Since I'm working on a lengthy piece right now, I thought I'd fill a gap by sharing what Axletree, an advocacy group in Dekalb, IL that I love, is up to.  We could all learn a lot from these folks!

Spending Money is Hard To Do.

Ok, so the title should be Spending Money Responsibly is hard to do, but that doesn’t grab the lead quite as well.
We talk about how we do things a little differently here at Axletree, and one of the things that we pride ourselves on is transparency.  In a couple weeks, we’re going to do a glitzy, nicely put together press release type blog post about one of our newest projects.  I’ll give away the story today: we’re partnering with the local library on a helmet project.  Through the amazing generosity of Lazer Helmets, we have acquired a number of helmets that will be donated to the library, and that area students will be able to check out and use, just like they’d check out a library book.  Thanks to the creativity of Mr. Nevdal, the project is known as Project Humpty Dumpty.  Again, more details on that to come later.  Today is about the road to Project Humpty Dumpty.
We take our advocacy goal seriously.  The funds we raise go back to the cycling community, and the community at large, and while we’re a small group, we have a goal of making a genuine impact.  It would be incredibly easy for us to take a portion of the funds that we raise and donate them to any number of good causes that distribute bikes around the world.  That would have been easy.  Raise some funds, write a check.
But honestly, we see problems a lot closer to home.  There are community needs that aren’t being met, right where we ride.  We’re working on things like bike pumps and trails, but honestly, there are a lot more basic needs that aren’t being met, either.  We go out for rides, and see kid after kid riding bikes (yayyyyy!!!) without helmets (noooooo!!!!), or with ill-fitting helmets.  We watch the news and talk to our local police and fire departments and hear about preventable injuries that could have been avoided with helmets.  We ride our carbon and titanium bikes in an environment where the basic needs of some of the most at-risk cyclists aren’t being met.  That’s a harsh statement, but it is one that we are coming to grips with more and more on a daily basis.  The more we look to identify what the community need is, the more we find an overwhelming need.
As I said, we want tangible results.  We want to chip away at some part of the problem–and we recognize the limits of our abilities and reach.  So we identify tangible problems, and we banter around ideas until we have a range of potential interventions.  We then research each of those interventions and try to find what works and what doesn’t.
Early on, we identified one tangible problem to work on: kids without access to helmets.  The easy solution to that problem would appear to be buying helmets and giving them away.  That’s a ‘write a check’ solution.  We could get the helmets, take a nice picture with our Axletree people in front of a pile of helmets as we hand one to a needy child, and move on with our lives.  But the more we looked into it, the more we found that programs of that nature have a limited reach. Obviously, you’re only reaching the people who actually get a helmet from the program…but there are not good track records for the programs being successful and the helmets actually being used.  There is no accountability, either for the donor or recipient.  Accordingly, we started to look for an alternate approach to this problem.
After much research and discussion, we found that we needed to have the helmets available to the community, in some format that they could be checked out–but in a context where there would be accountability to use and then return the helmet (even if only to renew the checkout).  The more we looked, the more we realized that we needed to partner with another community organization.
Fortunately, in DeKalb we are blessed with a very progressive public library.  I’ll spare the details (for now), but we’ve designed a program where (again, though the generosity of Lazer Helmets), we will be partnering with the library to make helmets available for checkout to community residents.
Project Humpty Dumpty has legs.  We’re moving forward in the final stages before implementation.  But what seems like a simple outcome took a lot of behind the scenes work.  It took behind the scenes work because we want our efforts to be successful and productive–and because we feel that we are accountable to all those who fly the Axletree flag and participate in our events.  That responsibility goes beyond writing a check–it drives us to develop and implement well-conceived, carefully planned projects.  At the end of the day, we hope those projects make a difference.
That sounds like a conclusion to this post, but it isn’t quite…because Project Humpty Dumpty isn’t all that we’re doing.  Our biggest project, Project Enable, is currently in the planning stages as well.  It requires an investment of effort far beyond anything we’ve done before, and requires partnerships that we are working to forge.  It requires designing a wholly new template for an advocacy program, unlike anything we’ve seen before.  And did I mention that we’re doing this while still planning our 2015 event season?
These are exciting days, and challenging days.  So much good can be done, but it requires so much effort.  From time to time, I realize that we haven’t shared what we’re doing in a while.  We haven’t done a blog post, or a Facebook post, or otherwise pulled the curtain back.  So today’s post is doing just that.
One final note: I used the “pull the curtain back” cliche above.  I want to continue to be clear on this one–there is no curtain.  If you want to get involved, contact us.  There are opportunities to be involved to whatever extent you wish.  I genuinely believe we’re on the right track, and we’re going to do great things–but they can be better with your help.

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