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Kathleen Todd, left, and John Bonewitz, right, lead the Free Cycles wheel dome across the Higgins Avenue Bridge toward the Missoula Art Museum on Friday morning where the dome will be an outdoor art piece for about a month.

Free Cycles launched 20 years ago with free-roaming green bicycles placed on street corners. Hop on and ride, then leave the bike for the next person. The graduate students who brought Free Cycles to fruition wanted to reduce air pollution and improve congestion. We also knew thousands of broken bikes could potentially be found on the valley floor.

The schools joined in, working together to weld frames, fix bikes and create beautiful art. From Day One we saw the tremendous power of widespread community involvement. 

A chain reaction bike ride released the cycles each spring. Local businesses stepped up with sponsorships. Sometimes a green bike's basket would be filled with fruit, providing free mobility and fresh fuel.

While green bikes lasted a few years, demand from the community for workspace was impossible to ignore. With momentum, a hub formed, providing a range of cycling services available to all.

Open Shop provides space, tools and assistance for anyone to fix their bike. Build-A-Bike gives opportunity to trade volunteer time for bike building. BikeWell classes impart safety, repair lessons and best practices.

Another aspect of our mission is educating and empowering youth. With the help of Bikers Against Bullies USA, Free Cycles recently worked with all 49 students of Dixon School. Thirty bikes were tuned and students were taught how to fix their own rides. Afterwards, everyone's hands were dirty, laughter was in the air and the stoke on bikes was as high as the nearby Mission Mountains. Additionally, the Dixon School now has their own repair space, outfitted with the proper tools. Free Cycles has facilitated over 160 outreach events with schools in Montana.

Now is the time to capitalize on an incredible opportunity to continue this multi-faceted work.

We can purchase our home on South First Street where we have been spreading our roots for the past 11 years. Located in the heart of Missoula, the 2-acre property is an ideal place to continue the work of Free Cycles. Having a permanent home will increase capacity, expand our programs and improve our efficacy. Under Free Cycles ownership, the land and buildings will be transitioned into replicable models of ways to address difficult societal challenges such as climate change, social justice and urban growth.

The Cycles of Change capital campaign sparked a fundraising fire with an all day celebration in December 2015. During this grassroots effort, we've partnered with local people, groups and businesses. We've hosted concerts, raffles, bicycle rides, door knocking and more. The overwhelming support we have received fills us up to the brim and inspires continued action.

Ownership would mean a fabrication center for those with mobility challenges, a bike share for short-term lending and a transportation learning center with a focus on health. Over the years, the organization has mentored a hundred interns on topics ranging from policy to adjusting the spokes of a wheel.

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What started as environmental cleanup has turned into a social movement to improve the fabric of a diverse community support system.

When someone leaves the shop riding a bike, we see the joy it provides. We believe when a person walks or bikes they are building an invaluable relationship with the environment. After years of experience, we have found the bicycle to be one of the most powerful and simple tools to create positive change.

We have until July 1 to raise funds to secure the property. The plan is to preserve the existing buildings and transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

If we can raise $385,000 by the deadline, bank financing becomes viable. So far, we have raised over $250,000. We are directly asking for your help on this final stretch.

To learn more or contribute to this campaign, visit www.freecycles.org, write to 91 Campus Dr. No. 1412, Missoula, MT 59081, or see us at the shop.

The local array of community services is gaining strength. The Poverello Homeless Shelter, PEAS Farm, Home Resource, Missoula Urban Demonstration Project, Missoula Children's Theater and Missoula Food Bank have all recently secured homes. Free Cycles is a vital next success story. We have so much gratitude for Missoula and would be honored to continue this journey with a place we, too, can call home.

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Bob Giordano is the executive director and founder of Free Cycles and Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation. Emily Jensen is the programs director of Free Cycles and MIST.

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