Wendy Penner volunteers to help her community. She's a member of the Williamstown COOL Committee and a founder of BIKEfest.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — As it takes two wheels and various other components to make a bicycle a bicycle, it has also taken many involved with the BIKE North Berkshire group to create the first annual BIKEfest that takes place this week, May 13-19, as part of "Bike to Work" week.
Jay Walsh and Wendy Penner, the two wheels, or co-founders, of BIKE North Berkshire, a cycling promotion group, started from different beginning points, but their paths and interests crossed in Northern Berkshire, including their interest in biking.
"BIKE North Berkshire was formed as a result of working with a wonderful group of committed and positive people who care about transforming our society to make our lifestyles more sustainable," said Penner. "Our vision is to promote safe bicycling for recreation, physical fitness, and environmentally friendly transportation, and BIKEfest is a vehicle for promoting, sharing, and growing that vision within the community."
Walsh got his first trail dusting with school and Boy Scouts, but he was not on the road where volunteering had meaning in his life until he got involved with the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) through a man that he met.
"He expressed to me that working to help make the community I live in better would also change me for the better. He could not have been more right and I am eternally grateful to him," said Walsh, a marketing manager with Living Well. "Through volunteering I learned many things about myself and how to work with and lead others. Since then, I have volunteered with dozens of projects in communities where I've lived, most recently here in the Berkshires.
"My volunteering follows causes I believe in and wish to support, as I believe is the case with most volunteers. Sure I could have earned a great deal more money this year if I had worked all the hours I did instead of volunteering, but I truly believe I would not be as rich of a man as I am today."
Penner, a non-profit consultant, began volunteering with her youth group.
"I found it deeply rewarding to be part of a group that worked to advance issues I cared about such as raising funds for a variety of causes, visiting the elderly, and caring for the environment," said Penner. "In Judaism, we have a concept called tikkun olam — repair the world — and I understand this to mean I am obligated to help make our society better. As a college student in the 1980s, I became deeply concerned about a variety of environmental issues."
A member of the Williamstown COOL Committee, she said learning about global warming made her feel "overwhelmed by the scope of the challenges we are creating for our ourselves and our children. I have sought out both personal and professional opportunities to help people make a difference in this global crisis through local action."
Often Penner wears different hats that fit well together, as during an Earth Day gathering, when she easily transitioned from her right side (encouraging people to the Center for Ecological Technologt table to get information on free energy audits) to her left side (offering energy saving information and giveaways at the COOL Committee table), and then when needed, went a little farther to her right to help promote the BIKEfest.
"I think that when we get out of our cars and onto our bikes the world looks different, we are healthier and our spirits are fed by the fresh air and connections we form to the environment around us and to other people," said Penner.
No wheels too small for Walsh.
You will often see Walsh riding around the area, especially with his family, showing how cycling can be a family affair. A couple of weeks ago, he and his daughter, 5-year-old Naomi, rode their bikes hooked together with a "Trailgator" to the Earth Day gathering.
"The neat thing is that you ride together for safety much like a tandem bike, but when you get somewhere, you can both ride your bikes separately," said Walsh.
Walsh and Penner, and other volunteers and sponsors, are hoping to raise awareness of the benefits of bicycling. Education, such as making choices about resources, and planning and infrastructure, can make biking more accessible, said Penner.
The public, especially families, are invited to attend the variety of activities and events this week that culminate in a Bike Rodeo on Saturday, May 19, from 11-2 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Attendee are encouraged (but not required) to bring a bike — and a helmet — for the activities including a parade at 2. There will be lots of bike safety information and bike accessories, including helmets, T-shirts, and more as giveaways at the rodeo and other BIKEfest events.
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