One Stop Center revolves around its 2 cherished bike mechanics

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 1, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Every weekday before dawn, people begin lining up at 701 17th Ave. W., waiting for the Bill Galvano One Stop Center to open.

When the doors finally do open at 8 a.m., at least 50 people are usually in line. By 2 p.m., roughly 200 have come through at a relentless pace.

The clients, many of them homeless, but not all, and whose numbers reached 7,000 last year in Manatee County, are coming for free services supplied by 154 volunteers.

They come for a hot shower, breakfast and coffee, to have their laundry done, to do a job search on a computer, to get mail that can be delivered there, to get a pair of work boots, a pair of jeans or clothes, to apply for food stamps, to see a doctor or dentist or spiritual adviser, or even just to sit on the long wooden pew, donated by a local Episcopal church.

But there is one other service that, to some, is most important of all to the population who depends on the One Stop Center.

Two men, both volunteers, take charge of keeping the homeless and poor mobile by fixing their bicycles.

Meet bike mechanics Curt Callahan and Kevin Robinson.

Callahan can usually be found working 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; Robinson is there Tuesdays and Thursdays during the same hours.

"Curt and Kevin are crucial because we give our clients one free bike during their lifetimes, and they need that bike to go to work, medical appointments, literally everywhere they need to go," said Adell Erozer, executive director of Community Coalition on Homelessness, which runs the center.

What makes the pair inspirational to others is that they have not let their own unique challenges get in the way of their commitment to those who depend on them.

Callahan has been homeless two out of the last six years.

Robinson, since he was a baby, has not been able to hear and that has left him with difficulty speaking.

Together they fix flats, rebuild frames from scratch and try to coax a few more miles out of rusty old chains and cables.

Curt Callahan's story

Callahan, 54, moved to Manatee County from Evansville, Ind. two months ago and has been homeless while trying to start a bicycle repair business. In Evansville, he owned a shop with the intriguing name, "Bike Parts and Art," where he sold his art and fixed bikes. When things dried up there, he hoped to strike gold in Florida.

"I'm homeless, but not helpless," says Callahan who explains that just a few missed paychecks left him without a roof over his head.

A U.S. Navy veteran who was born in Rushville, Ind., Callahan, who is a self-taught bike mechanic, describes his childhood as "state raised and unadopted."

"I have never had the nicest stuff, but I always had what I needed," Callahan said of his life. "I believe in quality, not quantity. I don't need a fancy car. In fact, I don't have a car at all. All I need is a modest home."

With no money coming in, Callahan decided to fix bikes for free, an interesting concept for a person who desperately needed money.

"It's a matter of thought," Callahan said. "If you let it get you down, you get stuck. I say, 'Do something with your day. Do something for someone else.' It's a way of networking, too."

That networking has apparently paid off.

Callahan met a Veterans Administration representative at the One Stop Center and that man, John Smith, introduced him to officials at Housing and Urban Development.

Callahan got news last week that he was approved for government housing in Manatee County.

In fact, Callahan was so excited about the small trailer HUD is providing him rent-free at Mel Mar Trailer Park in the 2800 block of 14th Street West beginning Monday that he got permission to mop the floors and clean the appliances on Sunday.

"Curt is a gentle, genius, giant," said Martha Childress, who serves as the coalition's coordinator.

Kevin Robinson's story

Robinson, 56, lives with his mom, Dorothy Muise, in the neighborhood known as Magnolia Manor at State Road 64 and Interstate-75. He owns Kevin's Bike Repair, which he runs basically out of a barn behind the family home.

Like in the case of Callahan, Robinson has benefited from his generosity.

"Kevin will take bike parts and make bikes out of them," Muise said of her son, who was born deaf, impacting his speech. "He used to make bikes in our barn and leave them at the end of our driveway for people. He liked to just to give them away."

Muise encouraged her son to donate his bike skills at the One Stop Center, and Robinson has been rewarded with admiration and affection from fellow volunteers, Childress said.

"He's amazing," Childress said of Robinson. "If we are loading a truck, he will jump right in and help load it. Then he will jump in the truck and stay there to help unload it. I could not want anyone better."

Childress communicates with Robinson by forcing herself to slow down her speaking and looking directly at Robinson, who reads her lips.

Both Robinson and Callahan have inspired Childress to adopt a new life philosophy.

Says Childress: "You don't have to believe everything you think."

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