by Kerry O’Reilly, LT ‘15
We sat down with Tom Iarossi (LT’15) Area Manager at the Tampa Commercial Division of Wharton-Smith, Inc. and board member with Onbikes, a Tampa-based nonprofit that delivers new bicycles to at-risk and foster children in our community. Tom told us all about the inspiration for this unique local charity.
I understand you and some friends got the organization going. How did that happen?
Onbikes started in 2011 when a small group of friends got together and went on a bike ride. Everyone had a great time as the experience immediately sent us back to our youth and served as a reminder of the significance something as simple as a bike can have on the psyche of a child. Bikes provide a sense of freedom, responsibility, and self-reliance all while also promoting health and wellness. So we basically took that experience and decided it was important enough to share with everyone. We started organizing community bike rides, and as participation grew we directed the fundraising efforts toward our cause and from there Winter Wonder Ride was born.
Tell us about Winter Wonder Ride?
The Winter Wonder Ride is our biggest fundraiser of the year and took place in December. We had more than 2,500 participating in the ride down Bayshore before the after-hour celebration took over. The ride takes place shortly after our annual bike build at Amalie Arena where we assemble all the bikes purchased for eventual distribution to the kids. This past build saw more than 700 people including city officials, community volunteers and corporate sponsors come together to assemble 800 bicycles!
What would you suggest to someone thinking of starting a non-profit?
From my experience, I would suggest picking a purpose or cause that you’re passionate about and just stick with it. Charity and nonprofit work can certainly be challenging at times. It takes a lot of determination and hard work, and there isn’t always a thank you waiting on the other end to help justify your efforts. But the reward for us is truly embedded in the task and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces quickly makes it all worthwhile. We like to say: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a kid a bike, and that’s pretty close.”
Any upcoming events where someone could get involved?
In conjunction with one of our community partners, The Tampa Police Department, we plan on hosting a number of bike rodeos throughout the year to promote bicycle safety and awareness. We expect the first will be sometime in Q1 of 2017. Please monitor the website onbikes.org or Facebook for updates. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations and volunteer sign-ups can be made throughout the year on our website.
Kerry O’Reilly, Leadership Tampa ’15, is the Marketing Director for the Tampa Bay Times and Politifact.