ADAIR PARK – This is a story about what happens when you say “Yes.”
‘Yes’ instead of “It’s not my place,” or “It’s not my business,” or “It’s not my problem.”
In this case the yeses came from a couple who just wanted a cute house for not a lot of money. “It was an inexpensive house that we could afford to buy.”
Becky and Tim O'Mara sit on their front porch. The porch was what sealed the deal on their affordable fixer upper in the middle of Adair Park.
The area had the dubious distinction of being an Atlanta zip code with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.
Becky says, “That was the state of the neighborhood. It was common to see prostitutes out on Metropolitan (Parkway), or in the neighborhood.”
The O’Maras discovered they were in the midst of all the wrong highs -- high crime -- high rate of home break ins -- kids high on drugs and gangs fighting right outside their front door every single day.
“Everytime I looked across the street I’d see some kids fighting,” Tim remembers.
The O'Maras naively thought they had bought a house. They would come to learn that sometimes a calling, comes calling. Theirs showed up on their sidewalk in the form of an 8-year-old girl named Brittney King.
“She turned and asked ‘Do you have any glue?’” Tim recalls. I was like ‘Probably. Why?’ She was like ‘I need some help with my homework.’”
The O'Maras helped Britney do her homework, a project on the solar system. They thought that was it. A nice thing done for a neighborhood child. But she came back. Now her bike was broken.
“She couldn't afford to fix it,” Tim says. “Neither could her family so we said if you'd like to help us do some chores in our yard, we'd love for you to earn the money to be able to buy that stuff.”
A month of clean up and chores later, the O'Maras bought Britney a new bike after realizing it was as cheap as buying all the parts. Brittney was thrilled. Once again, the O’Maras thought that was it. “We went inside and were going to move on with our lives and about 15 to 20 minutes later she showed up with a couple friends and they were like, ‘We want bikes too,’ and we were like, ‘We don't have bikes. That's not how this is going to work.’”
But what if it could work? Becky and Tim asked friends at church if they had bikes their kids had outgrown.
“Sure enough, people had bikes,” Becky says. “And we would get two or three here and there.”
And so began a movement...one where hard work led to a 2-wheeled payoff. Tim explains how they would say to the kids, “Hey, if you help us pick up trash in the neighborhood…that was kind of the trade, trash was such a problem in the neighborhood, we'll get you a bike.”
The gangs of kids fighting in the park heard about that couple giving bikes away. They put down their fists and picked up trash, 850 bags of it just from Adair Park.
“We started to get to know the kids and they kept earning bikes and they kept bringing more kids to the house.” Becky says that, “Eventually on a Saturday we'd have 10 to 15 kids in the driveway fixing their bikes tightening chains, fixing pedals, flat tires, that kind of thing. We realized, something is happening.”
Something did happen. The Bearings Bike Shops, three of them, non-profits where kids go after school to learn to repair bikes, all in an effort to earn bikes.
One 10-year-old boy is changing out the tires on his bike. “I've been here three years working.”
The bikes are secondary to what these children get -- ownership, pride, responsibility, a father figure who goes over their report cards. Tim and Becky measure their grown on the outside and inside.
Krinisky Cameron was in the middle of a fist fight years ago when Tim stepped into the fray and threw him over his shoulder and carried him all the way home to his mother. He’s about to graduate high school and plans to go to trade school.
“It teaches you the value of community.”
Instead of being on the streets, Travonus was here. She is now at Georgia State.
“I'm majoring in business administration and I want to be an entrepreneur,” she said.
Somehow an 8-year-old girl in search of glue knew that Tim and Becky O’Mara could fill the holes in her life and in her heart, and today that girl, Britney is going to college.
“They taught me everything.” She wipes away tears. “They taught me more than my daddy did actually. Yeah.”
The gangs of fighting kids are gone.
Standing on their front porch, looking out over the park, Tim says, “You'll see dozens of kids riding out there together and a lot of laughter.”
The once filthy park is a pristine jewel of the neighborhood. Crime is down. home sales are up, all because the O’Maras answered their unexpected calling.
“I just feel like it's something we said yes to. It feels good. You want more of that. Not for yourself. When you hear kids laughing and having a good time, how do you not want to do more of that.”
A little girl's search for glue -- now holding a transformed neighborhood together.
“It makes you feel like your life has some purpose to it.”