I am a Bike Club volunteer
Jonah Panther, Tom's Bicycles, Business Manager
In another life, Jonah Panther was a teacher. It was his goal. He went to school to become a teacher. Jonah became certified to teach. Jonah moved to South Korea to begin his career.
"The teaching experience in South Korea was terrible," said Panther. "When I got back, I did not want to teach."
Jonah, now the Business Manager for Tom's Bicycles, has become a staple of the local cycling community. But mentoring children still calls to him. "I love teaching kids," said Panther. "When I got back I did not want to teach but I still wanted to be around kids. So, I started mentoring at McClure Elementary. That was great for a couple of years."
Four years ago, Jonah received a call from Mike Wozniak to gauge his interest in starting a new Bike Club at Council Oak. "Somebody, I don't know who it was, requested Tom's specifically," said Panther, "I said yeah. I would love to do it!"
Jonah finds the time constraints minimal. "In a typical week I spend maybe two hours at the school. As lead volunteer I might spend another hour emailing people and making phone calls to make sure everything is happening the way it is supposed to."
What Jonah and the other volunteers receive out of their investment is immeasurable. And difficult to quantify. "I think the number one thing I see that I really love is confidence," said Panther. "There are a lot of kids that come in and are either nervous about riding or socially or what ever it might be. Bike Club gives them a place where they fit in and achieve a goal so they get a lot of confidence out of that."
"I'm creating new cyclists which is one of my favorite things in the world! I want to share it with anybody I get a chance to," laughed Panther.
Jonah also has favorite story he tells frequently. He also says it is not unique and happened multiple times. "We have kids that start the year that have never been on a bike in their lives. They had no idea how to ride. Nothing," said Panther.
"By the end of the year, those kids were confident cyclists that could go out and ride on the road, around cars and feel completely confident on their bike. To me, that is the most rewarding situation."
Jonah adds that the bicycle literally changes a child's world. "For some of them, they had never been to River Parks, never been to Gathering Place. When they get on that bike with us, they realize, 'Oh! There are all these other places I have never seen AND I can get there on my own! I can ride to all these different places!' It really expands their world from the tiny little bubble they have been living in their whole lives."
When asked, who is qualified to volunteer for Bike Club, Jonah is enthusiastically positive. "I think every single cyclist can contribute to any Bike Club. Whether they think they can teach or not, they need to know that they can. By loving cycling, they can teach these kids whether they are teachers or not."
Jonah also wanted to give huge praise for Council Oak's Physical Education teacher and teacher liaison for Bike Club. "My teacher liaison has been Linda Hilsabeck at Council Oak since the beginning," said Panther.
"Unfortunately, she is retiring this year," lamented Panther. "We do have some great new teachers coming on and taking over that position for her."
"But she has been amazing! This woman goes above and beyond in everything she does," said Panther. "Linda is just an amazing woman. I hope everyone has recognized how lucky we are to have her at Council Oak."
Learn more about how you can make a difference here.
Stories by: Andy Wheeler
Photography by: Melissa Lukenbaugh