JACKSON TWP. — Three seniors at the Jackson Academy for Global Studies were ready to take action.

For four years, the students were taught to look at the world from a global perspective and with empathy.

Michael Discenza, Alex Archer and Nebeyu Tedla established an organization called Helping Handles as part of their senior capstone project at Jackson High School. The students have been collecting used bicycles to refurbish and donate to an Akron ministry. The bikes will then be distributed as a mode of transportation for people in need.

Community members can drop off used bicycles from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Jackson Friends Church, 7945 Portage St. NW. The Saturday collection is the final of three dates.

"Transportation can be so impactful," Discenza said. "We as fortunate individuals sometimes overlook the true potential a bicycle has. We know a lot of people have bicycles in their garages. We thought we would put those to good use."

A global perspective

Each senior in the Jackson Academy for Global Studies, or JAGS, is required to do a capstone project through an independent study, said Kathryn Stone, coordinator of the program. Projects range from service to research papers to photo journals.

Four pillars comprise JAGS: investigate the world, recognize perspective, communicate ideas and take action.

"This is something so much bigger than just coming to school and doing what you're supposed to do," Stone said. "These kids have the skills, the ability to truly be confident in what they want to do and how they're going to make a difference."

The program originated nine years ago to teach students to appreciate other cultures and look outside of their own communities, Stone said.

Eighty hours of community service are required for students to complete the program, she said.

Though group projects are not always encouraged, Stone said, the trio has worked well together throughout the year.

During their sophomore year, the three researched a nonprofit called Bicycles Against Poverty. The group distributes bicycles to rural African communities to improve the standard of living.

"They've done an incredible job in my eyes as far as taking something they learned as sophomores and applying it to something they can use in the Stark County area," she said. "They saw this need."

According to the Bicycles Against Poverty website, residents of rural villages sometimes need to walk long distances to attend school, get clean water or visit the market. For these residents, a bicycle is their only means of transportation.

"That was our inspiration to take that idea into our own community," Discenza said. "We wanted to take what we learned and apply it to our senior year. There may not be as much homelessness and poverty in Jackson Township, but we branched out."

Taking action

The original idea, Discenza said, was to partner with Bicycles Against Poverty. However, they had difficulty keeping in contact with the nonprofit and wanted to aim closer to home with their project.

So the students decided to work with Jesus Said Ministries, a nonprofit based in Akron, to distribute the bikes.

Steve Haydu, co-director of the ministry with his wife, Judi, said the nonprofit is excited to work with the students. The ministry distributes clothing and food to the homeless while providing spiritual support.

The bicycle distribution is something new the ministry is doing with the students, he said. Jesus Said Ministries often collects donations and bus tickets to help provide transportation to those in need.

 "I thought it was a great idea," Haydu said. "Homeless people have no mode of transportation. A bicycle is like a car for them. Now with spring, it's the time people will need a mode of transportation."

The students have already surpassed their goal of collecting 30 bicycles. At least 35 bicycles are stored in the basement of Jackson Friends Church.

The three plan to repair the bikes before dropping them off to Jesus Said Ministries in April.

A GoFundMe was set up to collect donations to cover the cost of repairs or parts that need replaced, Discenza said. Bicycle locks also will be purchased with donations to be distributed with each bike.

Any leftover funds will be used to purchase additional bikes or will be donated to Jesus Said Ministries, Discenza said.

The students also received at least a half dozen bikes for children. Through a second partnership with Feed My Sheep, a homeless outreach program in Akron, they will be donating the children's bikes to be given to families as gifts.

"There were two ways to look at it: just a school project to get the grade or something to benefit the community and to help better the community," Tedla said. "We tried as hard as we could to make sure we help as many people as possible instead of trying to get the best grade."


Reach Samantha Ickes at 330-775-1133 or Samantha.Ickes@IndeOnline.com. On Twitter:@SickesINDE.