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CCU Atheneum: New Directions clients and staff celebrated the launch of the Rolling Forward bike program in July with a kickoff event.
New Directions clients and staff celebrated the launch of the Rolling Forward bike program in July with a kickoff event.

CCU professors' bike donation project rolling into Conway

by Melanie Smith
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This summer, sociology professors Sara Brallier and Stephanie Southworth delivered bicycles that had been abandoned on CCU’s campus and collected by the Department of Public Safety to the New Directions men’s shelter in Myrtle Beach. Having transportation to rent for free on a daily basis has changed the lives of the homeless population within this shelter. For the Rolling Forward project, it is the beginning of something bigger.

Since 2016, sociology students from Southworth’s social inequality and sociology of poverty classes have been interviewing the homeless, asking them about their needs. Through research and data collection, Brallier and Southworth realized the lack of transportation was a recurring and consistent need among the population.

Brallier and Southworth began working with the Department of Public Safety, specifically with Officer Steven Valenti, to collect abandoned bicycles left by students at the end of each semester. The bikes were donated for the men of New Directions to use for job interviews, visits with family, personal needs and going to work. 18 bikes are in working condition for 60 men.

“People have used the bikes from July 27 to the end of October to go to work 85 times, job search 45 times, run errands 42 times, go to the beach 56 times, to see their families 17 times, to their doctor 22 times, and other uses 23 times,” Southworth reported.

Men within the shelter offered to oversee the process of checking out and returning the bikes. Southworth is referred to as the “bike lady” when visiting the shelter, and she senses appreciation from all members of the New Directions community.

“From what I can tell, everybody loves this program,” Southworth said. “Even the ones who can’t use it… the men in wheelchairs are so excited that this program is there.”

A member of the New Directions community sent a note to Brallier and Southworth, sharing his positive experience with the program: “I appreciate having the bike program in operation. It really helped me to get from point A to point B. After the hurricane, I was stranded and the bike came in handy. I think the bike program is very effective and necessary, and I am thankful.”

The program is instrumental for the students involved as well, providing experiential learning opportunities in community service. Students take away valuable lessons from the interviews that open their minds and negate stigmas against the homeless population.

“A lot of the students are afraid to talk to people, but once they do they realize they have a story,” Southworth said. “I think we’re raising consciousness as well, so maybe the next generation won’t…

“..hold as many stigmas against homeless folks,” Brallier said, finishing Southworth’s thought.

The next step of Rolling Forward is measuring the success of the program within New Directions. Surprisingly, Brallier and Southworth found within their research that despite the number of bike programs across the country, not a single one measures the effectiveness of the programs. They also found that only one other corporation has asked the homeless population directly, not through a service provider, how many of their needs were met.

“Nobody has ever asked what their needs are,” Southworth said. “They have organizations around the country that have started programs, but not one follow-up has been done.”

“So, no one knows what they’ve been doing with them (the bikes),” said Brallier.

That’s why follow-up interviews are a requirement within Southworth’s classes. Along with these interviews, students are beginning to talk with the homeless population in Conway, facilitated by Tanya Mauldin, director of the Shepherd’s Table, a nonprofit soup kitchen in Conway.

The needs in Conway are different since the landscape of the region is different from Myrtle Beach. Bikes are not an adequate form of transportation to and from the coast. Assessments will be conducted again to see what needs can be addressed in the next phase of Rolling Forward.

“We call this the Rolling Forward project because of the bikes, but the project is now an umbrella for a project addressing needs of the homeless,” Southworth said.

The entire experience has brought the community and Coastal Carolina University a little closer together.
“It started with Stephanie and her students, then we have the Department of Public Safety, New Directions, and the Myrtle Beach mayor’s office gifted us 100 locks for the bikes,” Brallier said. “It started with this one survey and it’s blossomed into all of these other things.”

Seeing the project come to fruition has inspired Brallier and Southworth to continue their efforts.

“It’s rewarding… we both feel we’ve been analyzing data forever, and that nothing would ever happen,” Brallier said. “…but then, it did!”

“As far as the students, I am so excited because they get more out of going and talking to those people than I could ever tell them in the classroom,” Southworth said.

For information on how to donate bikes or get involved, visit the project’s Facebook profile at facebook.com/rollingforward.

 

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