Local Sports Bar Uses Grand Opening to Gather Bikes for Veterans

Jon Carollo
Director of Veteran Programs
Volunteers of America
509. 927.9295 or jcarollo@voaspokane.org

Spokane, WA – September 1, 2011 – This is the story of a sports bar, a group of veterans, and one hundred used bicycles—all about to get a new lease on life.

The sports bar near the Spokane Arena formerly known as Season Ticket is about to start a new life as “The Tailgater.” Recently purchased by Sweet Beans Coffee owner Kyla Goff, the venue will have a grand reopening on Sept. 1 7, 2011, from 1-5 p.m.

In keeping with the mission of both Kyla’s businesses to “serve others, make a difference and have fun,” the festivities will include the kickoff of a bike drive that hopes to gather 100 refurbished bicycles to local homeless and formerly homeless veterans over the next year.

The idea was hatched between Kyla and one of her regular coffee customers, Jon Carollo, who happens to be the director of housing (including two transitional homes for homeless veterans) at Volunteers of America.

“I have always been interested in hearing about Jon’s work with veterans. I often ask him what’s happening at the houses,” says Goff. “Earlier this year, he told me about these bikes they purchased for the programs and how they’ve been this amazing thing for these guys. When he told me that the bikes have to stay with the program even when the guys graduate and live in their own apartments my wheels started turning. It wasn’t long before Jon and I had hatched this plan to start a bike drive for vets.”

“We’re inviting anyone who comes to our opening party to bring a bike or donate money to assist in refurbishing bikes,” says Goff. “Every little bit will help give a homeless veteran.”

For a homeless or formerly homeless veteran having your own bicycle means reliable transportation to Veteran’s Administration appointments, work or school. It also provides exercise, recreation and a sense of community while riding with others—all of which can help reduce stress, decrease anxiety and prevent drug and alcohol relapse and depression.

“A bike can offer so much more than you might realize,” says Carollo. “When you are on a bike, no one knows if you are homeless, if you have PTSD or if you struggle with sobriety. When the guys in our two houses take their bikes out together they are just vets riding with other vets.”

The bikes gathered throughout the year will be used in a program being designed and administered by current and former residents of the R&R House and Eagles’ Rest House run by Volunteers of America.

“The guys are really excited to be able to provide bikes to homeless vets who are now where they were in life before they came to us,” says Carollo. “Giving back to the community gives these veterans the opportunity to help veterans while finding purpose in their lives.”

The veterans have formed a “Bike Advisory Board” that has already begun creating application forms and a logo for the program. They are planning group rides for veterans and forming relationships with members of the local riding and mountain biking community and local bike shops. The residents at the R&R House even decided to use the shop in their garage to assist in repairing donated bikes.

Bikes will be offered to any homeless veteran, not just those in Volunteers of America programs. Applicants simply need to provide proof of their service and verification of their homelessness. Each recipient will also be asked to sign an agreement that they will return the bike to the program if they no longer need it, perform some kind of community service and commit to participate in a massive Veterans Ride the group is planning as a fundraiser next summer.

“The Tailgater is getting a new start,” adds Carollo, “so what better place to offer not just the bikes but also the veterans who will ride them a fresh start too. Even just two wheels at a time, it’s a great way to raise awareness of the issues the homeless face locally and to assist our veterans as they return from the desert.”

How can you help? Join us at the Grand Opening of the Tailgater on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 1-5 p.m. where you can bring new or used bicycles and supplies or donate $5 to the cause for a chance to dunk a celebrity. Monetary donations can also be made at www.voaspokane.org.