In 2018, a spirit of generosity shifted into gear within an old band storage room at Cotter Schools. Fueled by a STEM Innovation Grant and supported by generous benefactors, the Cotter Bike Lab began to pedal on a mission to make a positive impact in the community by refurbishing bicycles to give to those in need.
The kickstands came up and the journey began with the acquisition of specialized tools and equipment, thanks to a partnership with Adventure Cycle and Ski. Next, acquiring bicycles to fix. “Winona is a premiere cycling town and a generous and compassionate community. We had no problem finding people to support us by donating their old bikes,” said Eric Paulsen, STEM Teacher and founder of the lab.
Fast forward four and a half years, with a brief hiatus during the pandemic, and the Bike Lab proudly achieved a significant milestone—100 bicycles donated!
This week, bicycles number 100 and 101 found a new home with a family that recently relocated to Winona from Colombia. This marks just one of the many instances where the Bike Lab has made a global impact. Families from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond have received assistance, easing their transition to the area.
Pedaling in tandem with local support groups like Catholic Charities, Home and Community Options, Big Brother/Sister, Engage Winona, Project FINE, and Winona Volunteer Services, the Bike Lab is part of a peloton for positive change. The refurbished bikes have not only supported immigrants but also Winonans facing special circumstances.
The impact extends beyond individuals. The Bike Lab maintains bicycles for Cotter’s international and domestic boarding students, allowing them to explore the beauty of the area. A recent grant facilitated the purchase of new mountain bikes for students to use for physical education classes and transportation to local learning experiences. “Kids and teachers on bikes, laughing and learning.” Paulsen says, “We’re delighted to service those opportunities for our school.”
Throughout this journey, student involvement has been a driving force. Around 70 students have dedicated their time to the Bike Lab, engaging in tasks like disassembling scrap bikes, working on special projects, and ensuring bike safety. Their efforts roll beyond charity, encompassing personal projects, tuning up staff bikes, and creative "Franken-bike" endeavors. The Bike Lab also provides students with hands-on learning that integrates with the Science and Engineering curriculum at Cotter.
As donated bicycles spin their proud owners around Winona, the impact of the Bike Lab becomes visible. It's not just about bikes. Winona's identity as a bicycling town is more than just paths and trails; it reflects the kindness and generosity flowing through the pedals of Cotter Bike Lab.