The day Mark Siminski found his purpose, he was killing time at ValPlayso Park with his daughters, waiting for his wife to join them on her lunch hour. Siminski noticed a boy of about eight years old walking around the park; he had holes in his clothing. A member of the Knights of Columbus, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Council #7473, Siminski is always on the lookout for unordinary circumstances that might require his attention. He decided to approach the child and see if he needed help.
After a bit of hesitancy, the boy became comfortable with Siminski and his daughters.
“He sat down with me and we just had a conversation; he said that while his parents were out peddling for food, he had to stay at the park,” Siminski said. “The playground was acting as his babysitter.”
As time passed, a child rode by on his bicycle. The boy with Siminski watched, unable to disguise his longing.
“As soon as that other boy drove by, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, and he said his ultimate dream was to have a bicycle,” Siminski said.
That was the moment the gears clicked into place. Siminski had a habit of collecting used bicycles and other metals to scrap to help pay for his daughters’ sports uniforms. Suddenly, a grander use for the scrapped bikes materialized: refurbishing the recycled bicycles to give to those who couldn’t afford one.
“As soon as he said that, a light kind of came on in my head, like, ‘This is what you’re supposed to be doing,’” Siminski said. “I just had this intuition. I thought, ‘Maybe I can put the word out, get some bikes, see if people are willing to donate them. I’ll go out and buy some parts to refurbish them.’”
And so he did. Over the course of five and a half years since that day, Siminski has refurbished over 700 bikes for people in need. The first year of Siminski’s recycled bicycle project, every cent came out of his own pocket; he spent $2000 on parts. But in the time that’s passed, the project was picked up by the Knights of Columbus Council #7473 and registered with the Porter County Fire and Police Departments. Siminski refurbishes bikes for families who have lost their homes in fires or disasters; he works with homeless shelters like Sojourner Truth House in Gary, Indiana to assist those who don’t have adequate transportation to jobs; he collaborates with Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana; he makes sure every child that comes to St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home in East Chicago has the chance to ride a bicycle. In short, Siminski is putting the whole region in motion.
“It just started growing and growing and growing,” Siminski said.
Siminski will never forget the first family he personally surprised with bicycles, a family of seven in need. Siminski delievered the bikes to the family on Christmas day.
“They had never ridden together all at once,” Siminski said. “That was their first time being able to go out and ride together as a family.”
At that time Siminski’s mother was dying of cancer.
“The one thing she told me while I would go and visit her was, ‘I know you do a lot of community service, but this by far overdoes it all,’” Siminski said. “And she kept saying how proud she was of me for doing it. She said, ‘I just want you to know that I want you to continue doing this after I’m gone.’ So I made her a promise that I would continue, and I have. I haven’t stopped.”
The refurbishment project is a 7-day task, on top of Siminski’s fulltime job and coaching his daughters’ softball teams, another one of Siminski’s passions.
“I love working with kids,” Siminski said. “Through the bikes, through the sports—it’s just wonderful seeing them grow, watching them learn.”
Siminski and his family are close, so naturally they help him out with the bicycles—in a matter of speaking.
“My wife, Sandy, and my daughters, Macy and Addysen, they’re my test riders,” Siminski chuckled. “My motto is—hate to say this, but—they’re kind of my crash test dummies. If it doesn’t work for them, I won’t give it away. If I don’t trust my own family on it, I won’t give it away to another one.”
Recycling and refurbishing bicycles has become so much a part of Siminski’s life, that he can’t see himself slowing down. His promise to his mother has become as cherished to him as it was to her.
“I enjoy it—it makes me happy, it makes my family happy, it’s nice to give back, and it’s something that I love to do,” Siminski said. “I’ve worked on bikes my whole life; I learned from my grandfather when I was younger. But I never thought that in a million years, later on in life, that those skills would come into play this way. But I’m very thankful for that. I’m going to continue to grow and I hope to help many more families over the years to come.”