BELLE GLADE, Fla. — A retired Palm Beach County firefighter is changing the lives of South Florida children.
Dawn Donaldson retired from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue in 2008 because of a cardiac disability. Since then, she's opened JTK Bike Shop in Belle Glade, which has become a hub for her youth mentoring. "I saw some children that I knew in a parking lot with a monkey wrench trying to fix a bicycle," she remembered.
In 2017 she opened the faith-based organization. "The kids are learning the hard mechanical skills of bicycle repair," she said.
But Donaldson said the kids are also learning how to build character. "We work on integrity, which is doing the right thing when no one is looking we work on honesty and we work on generosity and kindness."
"I didn't know what the next chapter was going to be and this is what it ended up being," Donaldson told WPTV on Tuesday. "I fell in love with these kids."
WATCH DAWN'S MENTORING EFFORTS:
Rosy Flezinord is 17 years old. She learned how to fix a bicycle and how to keep track of expenses at the bike shop: "I write checks and if somebody comes in and we make a sale I keep a file of all of those things of all of our financial transactions."
Another teen in the program is 18-year-old Randy Rhames. "I was happy when she started this program because it gave me an opportunity in the community to do something good for once."
John Griffin is one of the adult volunteer mentors."I see it changing lives. I see these kids that might not have anything good to do but have something valuable for them."
Volunteering here is easy for Kris Losche who fixed bicycles when he was a kid and is now a volunteer. "I had a bike too, every time I broke it I would find something to fix on it."
Donaldson says the Palm Beach County community has been very supportive. A few days ago the community found out the kids did not have sneakers to run in during the 5K Race at the Black Gold Jubilee Festival on Saturday, April 6. Some were doing their practice runs in flip flops. But within four days, the community provided sneakers for all 25 kids. "There are people in this community who want to help and they want to see good things happen," she said.
Donaldson says the children she teaches to repair bicycles learn the value of hard work and responsibility. "It has a special component of teaching them hard skills, mechanical skills, as well as teaching them the soft skills of character development," Donaldson said as several children worked around her bike shop on Tuesday, repairing everything from tires to gears.
Donaldson also recently spearheaded an effort to collect dozens of donated sneakers for children to compete in the upcoming Black Gold Jubilee 5K on April 6 in Belle Glade.