ELKHART — John Beeson doesn’t really want this credit. He’s flattered to be featured in the newspaper, and he’s happy the story could help raise awareness of the initiative he’s taken and potentially spread some more kindness in the community. But, the reward for him is the look of gratitude from someone who picks up a bicycle he restored.
“Seeing a person smile is worth a million dollars,” Beeson said, grinning broadly.
Beeson, an Elkhart County Landfill employee, essentially recycles bicycles so they can be donated to offenders who need transportation while serving time through local community corrections programs.
The Elkhart native pulls bicycles from trash that has been hauled to the facility along C.R. 7, and then works to repair them on his own time, like during lunch breaks, he said. Beeson will also spend money out of his pockets to purchase equipment or materials for the repairs, saying items like a new tire tube or a can of grease only cost a couple dollars. Friends and other landfill employees have chipped in by supplying parts or cash to help with the project.
The restored bikes are then provided free to Elkhart County Work Release offenders who volunteer at the landfill and need a ride. Some people don’t have reliable transportation while they’re in the program, or taking the Interurban Trolley isn’t feasible for them, Beeson explained.
“The most important part about it is, you know, the Bible says if you can build a man’s dreams the good Lord will build yours,” Beeson said. “Some of these guys that come from the center, they don’t have no family, they don’t have no way around. And when they come out here and volunteer, it gives me the opportunity to let them know they’re not alone.”
Beeson speaks from experience. After serving about four and a half years in prison, he transferred to the Work Release Center in Goshen through the Community Transition Program. While there, he volunteered at the landfill, he said.
After Beeson was released, John Bowers, the county’s landfill and solid waste director, offered him an entry-level job at the facility as a spotter — basically, helping direct the truck traffic at the landfill — around January or February.
“They gave me an opportunity. It’s just my way of giving back,” Beeson said.
He pretty much went right to work on the bikes, saying he’s given away about 10 since February.
“He came from the system, and he saw the need there,” Bowers said.
Bowers gave Beeson the OK to work on his bike program, but said he thought he should get official permission of the activity from county officials.
He proposed the program to the Elkhart County Commissioners a couple months ago. And on Monday, the commissioners approved a policy resolution that supports the bike rehabs. The commissioners also praised Beeson’s work.
“This is a great idea,” Commissioner Suzanne Weirick said of the program.
Bowers pointed out offenders doing community service through Michiana Community Corrections are also eligible for the restored bikes from the landfill. The bicycles come in a variety of makes and models, such as road bikes, mountain bikes and children’s bikes, Bowers said.
James Thompson, director of Elkhart County Community Corrections, applauded Beeson’s efforts as commendable.
“It would be a great thing to provide transportation to individuals who don’t have a means to get back and forth to work,” Thompson said, admitting he wasn’t aware of the bike program until asked about it Monday.
Work release, as a program through ECCC, serves as an alternative to jail or prison for eligible offenders sentenced in criminal cases. By state law, the center houses nonviolent offenders convicted of Level 6 felonies or misdemeanors, Thompson said.
Aimee Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.