Jacksonville Daily Progress
Reyna Borja, 10, of Jacksonville didn't own a bike on Tuesday morning, but by the afternoon, she was riding around on a new bike, courtesy of a local do-gooder and neighborhood celebrity.
Retired Jacksonville resident Oscar Harper spends his days in his backyard at a homemade work table fixing and repairing bikes for kids in need. His yard on Jefferson Avenue is hard to miss, with bikes of all sizes and colors sitting in the yard, waiting to be repaired to make a child smile.
Harper estimates he has 40 bikes in his yard, but many of them are going to be used for parts. He said it may take six of them to make one serviceable ride. Once he has used all the parts he can, he said the metal frames will be recycled to raise some funds for bike tires and tubes.
“I keep this program going because it keeps me going,” Harper said. “I'll be 80 in May.”
Borja's brother Jonathan said they heard of him, and when they saw him working in his yard, they decided to ask.
“He asked me what color, and I never told him, because I didn’t know what color she wanted,” Jonathan said.
The family came back on Wednesday morning.
“What color do you want?” Harper asked Reyna.
After she said pink, Harper responded “You know what? I might be able to take care of you today.”
Harper said he happened to have a pink bike that he fixed up for another little girl, who had not been by to pick it up.
“This girl here was just lucky that I had one ready,” he said.
Harper was raised in Jacksonville, and said he received an early education on how to repair bicycles.
“Me and the boys in the neighborhood worked together repairing each other's bikes,” he said. “I just like doing it.”
After a stint in the armed forces, Harper moved to Houston because he said his wants were more than the community of Jacksonville could supply.
“I had to go to Houston to buy meat to put in my beans,” he said. “I was tired of just beans.”
After working 26 years, four months, and three weeks at a steel mill in Houston, Harper retired. He moved back to his hometown in the 1980s to take care of his mother, and has remained in Jacksonville.
He said he grew up poor and feels good that he is able to give back.
“I am trying to give back what I would have appreciated if I had gotten,” he said.
Harper relies on donations to keep his charity going. He said his busiest giving season is in April and May, when school lets out, but he receives more donations right after Christmas.
“People bring me nice, nice bikes because they do not have time or the tools to repair it,” he said. “ So, its sits behind the house for a year or two before they bring it to me. I fix it in an hour or two and make another kid happy.”
Bikes that are 20-inches and below, he fixes up and gives to children for free. He repairs adult bikes and sells them for funds for bicycle tires and tubes. He said he also accepts tire and tube donations.
But Harper does more than just give bikes away, his work station also serves as a repair shop when something breaks. He has an air pump handy, in case a neighborhood kid has a flat tire.
“If they are 10 to 12 years old, I try to show them how to do it,” he said.
Harper's charity work doesn't end with bicycles. He also sells pecans and greens he grows in his garden.With funds raised from these projects, he buys Walmart gift cards in small amounts of $5 to $10 and gives them out to neighborhood children.
“All this work I do is for charity for children,” he said. “Everything I do is for children.”