YUKON — John Ballard doesn't move around like he used to, but the 62-year-old Yukon resident is as busy as ever getting ready for Christmas.
Ballard isn't doing any shopping. He's busy fixing up old lawn mowers, grass trimmers and just about anything else with a motor in an effort to raise money for his Bikes for Kids charity.
For the past five years, Ballard has provided new bikes for needy kids. This year he estimates he'll provide about 200 new bikes to those who simply ask for them. The money for the bikes comes largely from his pocket, though some local businesses have helped.
It all started with Ballard repairing a few bikes for neighborhood kids.
“Kids started coming here and getting their bikes fixed,” he said. “When I was a kid I didn't even have a bike. So I started going to the dumps and finding bikes and fixing them up to give to kids. We realized we didn't have parts so that's when we started working on the mowers and Weedeaters and started selling them.”
Ballard's home has some Christmas decorations up. The backyard is filled with old bikes in the process of being restored. Throughout the rest of the year, Ballard will fix them up and distribute them to whoever asks. He recently outfitted a needy family of four with free bikes. But Christmas is different.
“I want the kids to have nice, new bike for Christmas that's all theirs,” he said.
Ballard has a few helping hands to get that done. His wife, Donna, son, Denny Ballard and stepson Ben O'Dea are all active in getting bikes out to kids.
Denny Ballard is limited physically because of spina bifida but is a whiz at fixing small engines. He's seen the smiling faces and gratitude of those who receive the bikes.
“The kids and their parents are always happy to get the bikes,” Denny Ballard said. “The really neat thing is a lot of them will come back and visit. Some of them have even come back and helped out in the yard or whatever else they can do.”
O'Dea is also skilled at fixing just about anything. He spends most of his time working on lawn mowers and reselling them to help fund the bike purchases.
“I really love working with my hands and solving problems,” he said. “Some of these lawn mowers need a lot of work, and it's fun to see what the problem is, then fix it. Then that fixed lawn mower gets sold and it does some kids some good.”
Worth the effort
Things have been a little tougher than usual this year. John Ballard has had trouble with his hip, and the brutally hot summer took a chunk out of their lawn mower sales. Still, he doesn't plan on letting up.
“When you see those kids and their families, how excited they get, that's what it's all about,” he said. “They really appreciate these bikes, and it shows.”
Word-of-mouth brings people to his home. He doesn't advertise, though he has been interviewed on television about his program.
“Last Christmas Eve we had a woman come to the door in tears. She wanted a bike for he child. We got her one. It never really ends, but we're happy we can give these kids something to be happy about.”
How to help
John Ballard said he is seeking monetary donations to fund this year's Christmas bike drive and also old lawn equipment that he can fix up and sell to fund more bike giveaways. For more information on Bikes for Kids, call Ballard at 779-6574.