When Crossroads resident Meredith Baker was gifted a bike this month from STARS, she – appropriately – called it “heaven-sent.”
“They sat me down and said, ‘Meredith Baker, how strong is your sobriety? [They] wanted to know what it would mean to me to receive a bike from STARS, and I replied, with tears in my eyes, “Oh my gosh, thank you, thank you, thank [you],” Baker recalled.
Baker is one of three residents at Phoenix-based Crossroads – an Arizona Department of Health Services licensed residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment program – who received bikes from STARS, the Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services run by the nonprofit bike shop Handlebar Helpers.
Located in southern Scottsdale at Paiute Neighborhood Center, Handlebar Helpers is a job skills training program for individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities.
STARS Handlebar Helpers and Crossroads formed a mutually beneficial partnership in November.
“When it comes to both of our populations that we’re helping, transportation is really a struggle. Our population can’t always get a driver’s license. Crossroads population can’t always have a driver’s license. I think it’s the perfect partnership because we have the transportation that can help them, and it’s one last struggle, one last roadblock. The more they can have those challenges met, then the more likely they’re going to be successful,” said Mackenzie Kundinger, Handlebar Helpers group supported employment (GSE) job coach.
Crossroads has more than 400 residents, mostly recovering addicts, across the Valley.
For Baker, the bike means much more than a means of transportation; it has strengthened her sobriety and given her hope.
“I can now go to work and work at a community kitchen and I can do and go help volunteer and see my kids now,” Baker said. “Thank you for allowing me to move forward. You have given me hope again and strength to continue on in my sobriety and start living my life.”
“I know I can break the chains of addiction and homelessness. I will be able to support my kids again and forever be a mom.”
Baker has been a Crossroads resident for three months and sober for more than 100 days. “I am at Crossroads because I’m saving my life,” she said. “I’m here to learn and to teach and help others with the knowledge and skills I was taught. Crossroads has saved my life.”
Before she leaves Crossroads in three months, Baker plans to volunteer at Crossroads Flower, a Crossroads campus for women.
“This bike will help me moving forward to be independent and will help me to go to meetings, help me to help other women struggling at Crossroads and outside homeless women who are still in their addiction. I can work and now I can start in my sobriety even more,” Baker said.
“Even if you move out of Crossroads and you’re doing community kitchen, you still have a way to get there,” said Donna Alexander, Crossroads director of franchise and licensing. “
The Crossroads-STARS Handlebar Helpers partnership teaches both recovering addicts and adults with developmental disabilities how to be more independent and self-sufficient.
“It’s really a similar mission. We’re trying to help people get over their hurdles to become more independent and inclusive and successful in the community,” Kundinger said.
Alexander added the bikes will help teach Crossroads residents the importance of ownership and being a productive member of society.
“It’s going to be one of my sayings now: Before you have a car, you need to be able to take care of a bike,” Alexander said.
The idea of the partnership came to Kundinger over the summer, when Handlebar Helpers has extra bikes to spare.
“It just clicked,” Kundinger said. “I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be a great resource for people who are overcoming addiction because the most important things with our community and with people struggling with addiction is housing, transportation, and communication.”
Kundinger said the goal is to give two to three bikes a month to Crossroads residents.
“It doesn’t seem like much but having a bike of their own means a lot to a recovering addict. Owning a bike allows our residents to remain independent once they graduate from our program and do things like go grocery shopping, get to meetings or find a job without worrying about whether the city bus or the light rail can get them there or not,” said Lee Pioske, Crossroads executive director.
“STARS Handlebar Helpers participants are giving our residents a fair shot at a second chance and it’s what this partnership is all about,” Pioske added.
Handlebar Helpers doesn’t have locks or helmets, but Kundinger said they’d like to equip the Crossroads bike recipients with both if they can get the donations.
Handlebar Helpers are also in need of a volunteer mechanic, “anybody with bicycle knowledge and fingerprint clearance,” she added.