Freewheels Houston: Bikes for Refugees, Veterans and Young People

Feb 20, 2023

By Bill Mintz
Executive Director and Founder
Freewheels Houston
[email protected]

For people trying to make their way in Houston without a car, a bicycle means freedom that can transform their lives. Freewheels Houston fills this crucial yet unmet need for refugees, veterans emerging from homelessness and young people from low-income families. With a reliable bicycle, they can get to a job or school, shop for their families and travel to other essential destinations.

Freewheels Houston was launched in 2015 as a ministry of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. Although our volunteers and donors come from across the Houston community, members of the Christ the King congregation serve as volunteers and leaders and provide financial support. We have received bike donations and hosted youth volunteer events for other Gulf Coast Synod congregations.

Bikes from Freewheels have enabled refugees to accept a job, a crucial step in the journey to self-sufficiency for them and their families. Our bikes enable students to get to school–easing transportation issues for their parents and enabling them to stay after school to participate in sports and enrichment activities. Veterans in supportive housing programs use our bikes to travel to the VA Medical Center for jobs and appointments.

In 2022, working in partnership with social service agencies that send referrals, Freewheels distributed bikes to 450 people, more than double the number in 2021. Our goal is to continue to increase distributions in 2023.

Responding to the surge of Afghan refugees

After the Taliban entered Kabul in the days before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August, 2021, 76,000 people were evacuated to the United States. The refugees were people who worked for U.S. forces and other American companies and institutions and members of their families. Houston welcomed 5,600 Afghans—more than any other U.S. city. In fact, Houston took in more of these families than 47 U.S. states, the Houston Chronicle reported.

When one refugee received a bike through a referral from a case manager, many of his neighbors in apartment complexes in southwest Houston would reach out to Freewheels by phone or text message. All were looking for a way to look for a job, shop for their families or explore the city.

In 2022, Freewheels gave bikes to 287 refugees—almost all from Afghanistan. Although Freewheels usually focuses volunteer efforts on bikes for teenagers and adults, we gave bikes to about 100 Afghan children. Since the program began, we have also given bikes to refugees from Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Nepal, Myanmar, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea and South Sudan.

When a case manager calls saying a client just got a job at Target, Walmart or another store, Freewheels will give them the first available bike.

Bikes mean opportunity

After reading news coverage of Freewheels, case managers working sent veterans emerging from homelessness to get bikes. Vets use them to get to work and appointments at the VA hospital. Some have used our bikes to deliver meals downtown for Uber Eats.

The faculty and staff at Klentzman Intermediate School in Alief ISD select 5th and 6th graders to receive bikes based on superior attendance, improving grades or because a student is making progress in other areas.

You can help welcome our new neighbors

Please consider joining Freewheels bike repair volunteers from all parts of the Houston area at our well-equipped shop to clean and repair bikes that will enable people to participate in the city’s many opportunities. Shop days are an enjoyable way to learn something new, meet new friends and serve the newest members of our community.

Freewheels volunteer days are on Friday and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon at our shop at 6020 Jessamine in the Gulfton area of southwest Houston. We will fit your assignment to your skill level and interest.

  • If you know how to repair brakes, derailleurs and other bike systems, we will put you to work on a bike right away.
  • If you are a beginner and want to learn about maintaining a bike, you will start cleaning bikes and undertaking minor repairs. Each time you attend, you will learn more about bikes.
  • Volunteers also distribute bikes; they make sure the recipient has the right size and style bike. They give each person a new helmet, demonstrate the proper use of a bike lock and introduce safe-riding principles.

You may register for a shift on the Volunteer Houston platform. Before your first shift, please complete the Freewheels volunteer consent and the Freewheels volunteer information form. If you want to explore bringing a group to Freewheels for a service opportunity, please contact [email protected].

Freewheels welcomes volunteers 14 years old and older to participate without parental supervision. Younger people may participate with their parents. If you are under 18 years old, please ask your parent or guardians to read and complete the Freewheels Houston volunteer consent.

Freewheels will work with your congregation to develop a rewarding volunteer experience for adults or youth groups.

Donate your used bikes

We receive donated bikes during shop days on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at our warehouse at 6020 Jessamine #204, Houston, TX 77081. Although our goal is to accept all bike donations, our storage space is near its capacity. This has reduced our ability to accept donated bikes; we are not encouraging bike donation drives at this time.

Our greatest need is for adult mountain bikes and hybrids with 26 inch and 700c wheels. We also need youth bikes with 24-inch wheels. Most of our adult recipients are average height and weight, so extra-large bikes are not currently needed. Our refugee and veteran customers rarely ask for road bikes or beach cruisers.

If a bike has been left outside for a long time or the handlebars, wheels, gears or derailleurs are damaged or have significant rust, we won’t be able to quickly repair it and prefer that it not be dropped off at our shop. We replace worn tires, seats, chains and grips, but rusty or broken bikes are not worth the time or the cost of replacement parts. We do not accept used helmets, smaller bikes, scooters or tag-alongs.

Financial support

Freewheels relies on individuals, congregations, businesses and foundations to pay for helmets, locks, lights, buy tires, tubes, chains and other bike parts, and pay the rent on our shop. You may donate here. In 2019, Freewheels became a Texas nonprofit corporation with 501(c)(3) status.

Freewheels has provided our volunteers with opportunities to meet many refugees, including inspiring people who are focused on providing their families with a new, full life in their new homes. You can learn more at our website