A good leader is someone who moves with grace, unafraid to adapt quickly, and understands that every action must be rooted with intention and compassion. These are the lessons Fenwick High School junior Grant Schleiter learned after he took on a community service project and helped one local charity organization collect over 180 bicycles for students at a Chicago public school.
“It’s been really cool and a great experience to finally be in charge,” said Grant, an Elmhurst native, over the phone.
Grant joined Pedal Power, a north suburban organization, in 2017 with his older sister Lauren. The Schleiter siblings learned about the charity through their father’s friend, and over the years embraced the mission, working with other teens, spreading the word about bike donations around their communities and connecting with residents and area businesses.
Grant, 17, said many of Pedal Power’s leaders, including his sister, are now college-bound, leaving him to carry on the organization’s momentum.
Bicycles are collected only once a year — the second weekend of November — but it takes months to prepare for that one-day drive, ensuring everything runs smoothly, he said.
This year’s collection drive was challenging, he added. Not only was it Pedal Power’s first since the COVID-19 pandemic began but one of the bike shops he and his team relied on as a donation drop-off location closed down. Pedal Power organizers teamed up with a total of eight bike shops across the Chicago area’s north and west suburbs. Grant said he was responsible for donations in Elmhurst and Palatine, while the organization’s Wilmette branch took care of the other locations, rounding up dozens of bikes.
Promoting the event was a top priority. He and his peers took the time to figure out the best way to reach donors and raise awareness for Pedal Power’s cause. For two months, they toured their neighborhoods, hanging flyers at nearby coffee shops, connecting with families through other schools, talking to bike shop owners and contacting media outlets.
As a team, Grant said he and other Pedal Power organizers met almost weekly to touch base and iron out the details for collection day. They planned to deliver the bikes to Cesar E. Chavez Multicultural Academic Center, a public school located in Chicago’s Back of the Yards/New City neighborhood. In an effort to promote education, bicycles are awarded to students who make the honor roll, according to Pedal Power’s website.
In addition to the drive, Grant said, he and his peers ran safety tests on the used bikes. They checked the tires, replaced chains and did some minor repairs — which was a learning curve for Grant himself.
He explained that Pedal Power accepts new and gently-used bicycles, but the organization receives its fair share of inoperable bikes. But just because they aren’t rideable, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable anymore, he said. Pedal Power donates bicycles to the Northside Learning Center High School, another public school in Chicago for students with disabilities. There, they are given to students who learn about bike mechanics, sometimes reassembling them piece by piece.
“The kids are so passionate about fixing their bikes. It’s really cool to see them all work together,” he said. “I didn’t have any prior knowledge of fixing bikes, but being able to see these kids be able to fix them up, it’s pretty cool, and maybe I could learn a thing or two from them.”
Grant offered a message for those interested in getting involved in their community.
“Get out there and help people,” he said.
“Being able to get up and get some initiative to help others, even as small as giving a kid a bike,” Grant said, “it’s something putting smiles on faces right now. It’s something that this world needs: Get up and make a positive influence on this world.”