Richard Bowman received his first new bicycle in 42 years Friday, and he sees it as a lifeline.
"This is a blessing in disguise and can help me put my life back together," said the 54-year-old Army veteran, who served six years in the military and was stationed in Korea. "I love to bike ride, but more importantly, this will help me get to work at the V.A. Hospital. I'm ecstatic about it."
Bowman was one of 20 Lake County vets who received new bicycles Friday, thanks to a partnership between Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and AbbVie, Inc., a North Chicago-based pharmaceutical research and development firm.
Catholic Charities Veterans Employment Program received the donation of new bikes, helmets and locks for veterans in need from several of AbbVie's employee resource groups.
The bikes are designed to help veterans who may not have adequate transportation to get to work, said Mitchell A. Siegel, job developer for the veterans employment program at Catholic Charities. The bikes will also serve vets with recreation and exercise.
"This donation is fantastic," Siegel said as the veterans walked among the new Mongoose bicycles delivered to the Catholic Charities offices in Waukegan. "These guys have been through a lot. It's great we could give something like this back to them."
Siegel started the Veterans Bike Project last year with the goal of helping veterans find employment.
Veterans from the employment program are looking to pick up where they left off in their previous careers, or find new opportunities where they can apply their wide variety of skills, Catholic Charities said in a news release.
The program works to help vets find jobs, retain jobs and remain stable and efficient employees.
Catholic Charities also networks with employers to help them hire veterans who have demonstrated leadership, discipline, dedication, responsibility and a strong work ethic during their military service, officials said.
Siegel said the project started with donated bikes from the Lake County Bike Project. The bikes were given to veterans to help fill transportation gaps in public transportation.
Kristen Howard, chairwoman of community affairs for the veteran's employee resource group at AbbVie, said she saw an article regarding a fire in Waukegan that affected some veterans. She said phone calls led to the group syncing up with Catholic Charities.
Shortly thereafter, several employee resource groups at AbbVie -- including the Hispanic/Latino employee resource group called AHORA -- worked together to secure funding for the new bikes.
"This was a great opportunity for us to be involved and help out," Howard said.
A second bicycle donation will be made later this month to the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation, she said.
"This will definitely help me get around faster," said veteran Jason Robinson of North Chicago. "This bike is a blessing, no doubt about it."