As a young child growing up in South Florida, Joe Semkow remembers the freedom of
owning a bicycle.
Florida’s mild weather meant he could use that bicycle year-round, visit friends and play outside, something Semkow feels is missing for children today who are consumed by video games.
But the stumbling block for many children is they simply don’t own a bike, and their family can’t afford to buy them one. So Semkow and his friend John Plantenberg formed “Inspired Bikes Vero,” an organization that hopes to inspire kindness and get needy kids moving on their own bikes.
In their first year, the pair gave away 25 bikes, planting clues on Facebook where “scavenger hunters” could find bikes hidden throughout the community. Last year, that number jumped to 65, and this year, Semkow and Plantenberg are aiming to give away 75-100 bikes.
“We make it a fun event,” said Semkow. “Kids go on a scavenger hunt with their parents, following all the clues that could lead them to a new bike. We try to make it exciting for kids.”
Here’s an example. In a Facebook post on December 9, Semkow wrote: “Stay tuned today! Two bikes today, one is going to make you hungry for dinner, and one will have you monkeying around! One clue drops at noon, the second at 4 p.m. For an extra clue throughout the day, message me for a riddle!”
He reminds hunters that bikes are only for those in need or children whose families need a little extra help. He tells children to have fun, spread joy, inspire, enjoy the weather and get outside.
Included with most bikes are locks and helmets so children can learn the important lesson of caring for their new bike and caring for themselves when they ride. When a child finds a bike, a parent snaps a photo and posts the picture on Facebook, and the combination to the lock is provided. Bikes are hidden in parks, playgrounds, and other spots throughout Vero Beach. Funds for the bikes are provided by donors from across the country looking to spread the kindness Semkow and Plantenberg emulate.
“In the past year, there have been a lot more people in need,” said Semkow. ”No matter what their situation may be, we as a community should do what we can as neighbors and human beings to help those in need. If it’s getting back on your feet or making sure someone has a way to work, we were raised to help one another. Always put your hand out to help others up.”
Semkow said throughout his life, he wanted to create something meaningful that could inspire others. Ephesians 4:32 tells people to “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.”
“I believe God steers us in ways that allow us to be kind,” said Semkow. “He’s showing us that we are better as a whole, that when we come together as a community, we can do so much good.”