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Bears' bike giveaway helps local veterans


The Bears wrapped up their last practice in Bourbonnais on Sunday morning. The coaching staff left something behind.

A fleet of new bicycles.

Coaches have used the bikes to get around the campus of Olivet Nazarene University for the past two weeks. At the end of practice, each member of the coaching staff personally gifted their bike to a person in need.

The tradition started in 2004 during Lovie Smith's first season as head coach. Smith changed his staff's mode of transportation from golf carts to bicycles, with an eye toward donating them to charity upon the conclusion of camp.

Recipients were chosen with the help of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet and the Illinois State Police. While most of the bikes went to teenagers, several veterans were included in the group. According to Courtney Sanders, who works in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families division, bicycles solve one of the biggest problems for veterans in the Kankakee area: lack of access.

"There's just not very good transportation there," she said. "It's more of a rural area. Many of the employers are scattered. Many of them are in neighboring towns. Often times the bus system routes don't fall in line with the schedule, so they can't accept that job because they can't get there or get home."

Devin McNeely, a native of Rankin, Ill., was eventually medically discharged from the Army after going into kidney failure during basic training. He spent a little under two years in the armed forces. In the years since, he has struggled to find consistent work and was homeless until Catholic Charities helped him find an apartment.

He said that the gift will be a great help in job search as he has no other means of transportation. Quarterback coach Dave Ragone rolled his bike over to McNeely.

"He said he tried not to ride it too much," said McNeely of the exchange.

Even for local veterans who have means of transportation, the gift represented an improvement in their quality of life.

Aleshia Rabideau is a Kankakee native who spent 10 years in the Army, after joining the armed forces in high school. She is now studying accounting at Governors State University, while caring for her two children, six and four years old. Moments after receiving her bike from defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, she spoke about her plans to use the bike for exercise and recreation.

"Me and my kids are going to get out," said Rabideau. "Go to the park or just check out the scenery."

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