Jamie Beringer on Bicycle Recycle, Building a Legacy, and More

Jamie Beringer of Bicycle Recycle

On a true summer day – sunshine streaming and barely a cloud in the sky – I pulled into a spot outside Dry Dock Saloon in Hamilton and strolled over to the scrap metal recycling center across the parking lot, in search of bicycles and my interviewee. Before long, Jamie Beringer found me wandering around and led me down the hill to Bicycle Recycle’s headquarters. I was immediately reminded of Las Vegas’s famous Neon Museum, sans the old signs and plus countless wheels, handlebars, chains, seats, and more, as far as the eye can see. Jamie and her business partner, Dave Lodder, gave us a tour of the facility housing hundreds of donated bikes, including a shop, greenhouse, and outdoor storage area. It’s safe to say the folks with Bicycle Recycle won’t be running out of 10-speeds to fix up anytime soon.

Interview by Kelsey Johnson. Photography by Dawn Borntrager.

Before we dive into the two-wheeled topic on all of our minds, why don’t you tell us about yourself.

I'm Jamie Beringer. I went to Miami University and I was in graphic design for 22 years. And an opportunity came to do a nonprofit just while sitting in my driveway one day with Dave.

We did the logo and everything that day, and [now] we're in our fourth year – just the two of us. We work all off of donations and whatnot. We're a service nonprofit, so we fix 'em and recycle. It's bigger than what we thought it would be, and it's not like we advertise or anything. We feel very lucky. As you can see, we have an overflow of bicycles [laughs], but one way or another, the bikes are recycled.

In year two, my main goal was to get brand new helmets for every kid, too. It's about the safety. I see you have 3 Little Halos written down –

Jamie Beringer of Bicycle Recycle

Yes! I heard that you also do work with them.

So I got hooked up with them 'cause their mission is safety for kids, but they're now into all sorts of safety. And they have granted us, over the past three years, enough money to get brand new bike helmets for each kid.

So we started working with Butler County Children Services, and just from word of mouth and being in the nonprofit world, we've expanded to Haven House, Family Promise, Parachute, and Reach Out Lakota. Basically, people will say, "Hey, we've got this person – what do we do?" and you know, as long as you're a nonprofit, all you need to do is call Dave. Look it up. 'Cause we don't have any formality or anything. It's just the two of us. Just call and ask!

Can you tell us more about how Bicycle Recycle came to be?

So like four summers ago… I can't believe it's been this long! Dave does a lot [of work] with soldiers, and my kids and I would come all the way out here and help pack [care packages] for soldiers, and people drop off all kinds of different donations to him. At one point, people were dropping off bikes. He had four or five bikes and fixed them up and took them to Over-the-Rhine and donated them. And I said, "Hey, I live in the 'burbs. It's springtime," and I said, "People are cleaning out their garages and whatever. If you need some more bikes..." and we got 16 bikes that day. Just put it on social media and people dropped off their bikes. We sat there and talked and then I said, "Well, let me look into this nonprofit stuff."

If you want to do something and you desire it, then just try it. I actually don't understand when people don't.

We ended up at the West Chester Community Foundation as a fund, which has worked out really well since we don't have to deal with all the finances and taxes and all that. So we just signed up with them and it just kind of happened, you know?

How many bikes would you estimate have been donated at this point?

I keep telling Dave to keep track but... over a thousand, I would say. Probably more than that. The first year at Christmas, we gave out 140. But we give them out through the year, right? So there's a load that's going to Parachute; we just took a load to Family Promise, and they just called and "ordered" more. Butler County Children's Services as needed – we work with the deputy and she'll call and say, "I have two boys, an eight- and nine-year-old, that just got placed." And she'll come over here and pick it up and take it to their home. Oh, and Boys and Girls Club! He just delivered some and I didn't even know that was happening [laughs].

And you mentioned earlier, it's not just bikes, but really anything with wheels.

Yeah, anything to get the kids outside and some freedom. You know, they leave these homes with nothing. And especially, too, like the homeless shelters. Just to have some stuff for the kids to do outside. And at any point in time, if anything doesn't work, we'll fix it.

But we also help out other charities, too, which I love. I like to save them for people who'll have like a golf outing and the basket raffles and all that. We can give bikes to that.

And I got into the grant stuff. I had never written a grant before, but I've gotten a few, so that's been extremely helpful. I think we've gotten probably $8,000 in grants. With helmets, we can run on about $3,000 a year. There are things you can't replace – like the rubber handlebar things, the tubes in the tires, and brake lines; some seats we have to replace. He tries to recycle all those. And they don't look super pretty, but that's the whole point, you know? You're saving them from a dumpster.

Donated bicycles at Bicycle Recycle

Are you an avid biker yourself?

No. [Laughs.] The first thing I did was donate my bike. I had a bike and I never used it. I don't know where it is – it's probably in here somewhere... And it has nothing to do with me liking bikes; it's just helping kids, is all.

Do you have a full-time job outside of your volunteer work?

Well, I have a real estate business, a design business, and this, and now I'm working with another nonprofit as a project manager.

So you like to keep busy, huh?

I do. [Laughs.]

How do you balance all of those moving parts?

You know, I don't know if I do. I can't say I do. And then I have those three guys... [Gestures to her sons playing near the shop.] Which is crazy, but you know, I'm not afraid to ask for help, and I can only do what I can do. I used to be the "pleaser" and I would do everything, and now I'm just like, no.

I'm divorced. I let the dad do more – I don't care if he screws it up or not. My kids are getting older and they need to be more self-sufficient. I'm trying to teach them that.

How old are your kids?

Two are 13 and one is 14.

That's a pretty... fun age range, as I recall.

It can be bad – I'm getting payback. My mom would say that: "You're getting payback from when you were a teenager."

Jamie Beringer and her sons

What advice would you give to somebody who's interested in becoming more engaged in their community, but they don't quite know where to start or what the jumping off point is?

You know, my friends ask me like, why? I have a degree, a bachelor of fine arts, which doesn't make me good at anything that I'm doing right now. But I did learn the hard way, 'cause I worked in the corporate world for 22 years, and my thing is always like – it sounds cheesy – but, like I said with the grants: I had never written a grant before, but I'm like, "Well, how hard can it be? I'm gonna try. What's the worst that can happen?" And I love to learn new things. Like this other project that I'm doing; I don't know how to build a safety town, but guess what? I will talk to people and figure it out. It's just, give it a shot, you know? I think a lot of people are just too afraid to try things. And I can't say I haven't failed at things but I mean, look at this. We're doing pretty good. I wish I could give some more time to it, but for what it is, I think we both do what we can.

I think that's really great advice – get out of your head, stop overthinking it, and just go out and do the thing.

Right. If you want to do something and you desire it, then just try it. I actually don't understand when people don't. 'Cause it's even little things, you know, like trying a different restaurant. "Well, I don't like that kind of food..." Well, how do you know?

Katie Gravely, another writer for Women of Cincy who mentioned your work with 3 Little Halos, tells me you have a "unique sense of design." And just looking at your jewelry right now... Are those bicycle parts that you're wearing?

Yes! I do wreaths, too. That's the thing – I'm a designer, too. That's what I mean, like, I'm kind of all over the place. Initially I thought, “Okay, oh my gosh, I'm going to crash and burn,” because everyone kept saying that I needed to focus on one thing. But I can't. I like that every day is different. I used to be so regimented: I got up, worked 7:30 to 6:30 in the corporate world with a "fun" degree, and it wasn't fun. I just couldn't. It was stifling. And now, every day is different and I meet great people, which I love. You know, you meet one person, and that leads you to another person, who leads you to another... I like to volunteer and just get out there.

Would you say that you've always been an active community member?

Yeah. My grandparents and parents always did stuff, and I went to Catholic school, so we had to do stuff – had to. But I guess my main thing was that after I had my twins, I felt very lucky because every mother of twins I knew at the time, their kids were in NICUs, and mine were full-term, 14.5 pound babies. And I felt really lucky, so I started to volunteer a lot at Ronald McDonald House. I just felt very lucky of my kids being healthy and you know, it's about kids, too. They get the short end of the stick. I grew up poor, but I didn't want for anything. I always had love and all that. And my kids are spoiled and you know, I appreciate what I have. I just know that I hate waste. That's the recycling part.

You can make all the money in the world, but you need to help other people.

So, I'm a pack rat, but I keep stuff because I know in the future, somebody's gonna need it. I don't need it, but I'm not gonna throw it away. Like plastic hangers. You know how many plastic hangers I had? People kept saying, "Just recycle or throw those away." Boom. Guess who needed them? Family Promise. They were so excited – they're like, these people leave here and they have no hangers. It's those little things that people throw away, and I hate that.

Well, there's an even better reason for me to continue holding onto all of my stuff.

I need a pole barn myself, just for that stuff. [Laughs.]

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I don't know if I've accomplished it yet. I'm still building my empire. [Laughs.] I'm trying to build an empire, and not with money. I'm trying to build a legacy for my kids. I think this generation is very selfish and very entitled, and to just have them to get it and to want to do stuff and help others… You can make all the money in the world, but you need to help other people. Especially if you're – and even if you're not – doing well, just help others. It's contagious.

I made it through the corporate world for 22 years, but... I just do what I do, and I do like to help people. Even being a real estate agent, I love to help people. I'm out there pulling their weeds and cleaning the toilets... It's their home, you know? And I appreciate that.

You know, I've had a lot of bad stuff happen to me. I just lost both my parents within four weeks in February/March... I'm an only child. I'd say that's an accomplishment, as far as handling all that and taking care of absolutely everything myself. I hate that. But I know in time, I know I'm strong and I can do things. But it still sucks. And the divorce, and all this other stuff. I really, really try hard to look at the positive.

Kelsey Johnson (left) and Jamie Beringer (right)

I think it says a lot about you that you've gone through so much, and yet you're still out here donating all of your time and effort to these charitable causes.

I mean, I try! I still need to make a living. I have to keep those things fed.

It's a bummer that bills don't stop when you're doing so much good in the world!

Right? But you know, I don't do it to get paid back. I love to do it and I wish I could just do it full time. I feel like a voice for the kids and different charities. I feel like I appreciate them all – what everybody does, especially with kids.

What is Bicycle Recycle in need of right now? How can the Cincinnati community help?

Always donations. You can just go to the West Chester Community Foundation website and people can donate or send a check. Dave wants to get handicap bikes together, and he tried to build one and it just wasn't working out... [but we'd like to] maybe purchase a couple for Stepping Stones. It's a little more intricate, obviously.

Anything with wheels.

Who has been an influential woman in your life?

It was my grandma. So my mom was divorced when I was one, and she pretty much raised me because my mom had to work. She had seven kids, and I was the oldest grandchild. Basically, I had her to myself. Her and my grandpa would always give me little one-liners of, you know, "Be nice and smile." I try to do that to them [gestures to boys] in the hopes that one day they'll remember it [laughs]. 'Cause they're like, "Oh god, here you go trying to teach us a life lesson again."

Do you know an awesome woman of Cincy ? Nominate her here! New features launch every Monday.