Volunteer Spotlight: Helen McConnell

Volunteers are an integral part of our community. From wrenching on bikes for Holiday Bike Drive to providing photography or graphic design expertise to our events, the Community Cycling Center’s volunteers keep the wheels of this organization moving forward.

Some volunteer roles are visible in the community; some are behind the scenes. Today, we would like to honor Helen McConnell, the person behind the volunteer food at the Holiday Bike Drive. If you have volunteered for the Holiday Bike Drive and marveled at how the volunteer’s food magically materializes, the magician’s name is Helen McConnell.

Helen McConnell at the beachWhat do you remember about your first bike?
My first bike was a purple Stingray (banana seat, yes!), with a white basket with flowers. Santa or my grandparents gave it to me for Christmas. I loved riding that bike! One time when my parents were away for the weekend and we had a babysitter, I rode my bike into the street (totally against the rules). I hit a passing car. Fortunately, we lived up on NE 36th, which is still a quiet street. The car was going very slowly. I wasn’t about to tell my parents and would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the very nosey neighbor (picture Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched). She told my parents when they returned, and I got in trouble.

How long have you volunteered with the Cycling Center?
I have volunteered at the Community Cycling Center for many years. I used to do the Tuesday Night drop-in gig, and at one point I’d hoped to learn enough about bike repair and maintenance to at least become my own mechanic. It turns out I’m a horrible mechanic, and I’m much better off paying someone else to do it!

Why did you start volunteering?
I actually started volunteering with my oldest daughter when she was in middle school and wanted to get her community service hours. I just sort of stuck around.

How are your skills utilized as a Cycling Center volunteer?
Well, since I’m not a mechanic, the Community Cycling Center has always found ways for me to utilize my other skills. I volunteered for one of the 6-week after-school programs at Rigler School. I can ride, I can teach, I love kids – I just can’t do the mechanical stuff! I served on the CCC (a committee whose name started with CCC, but I can’t recall now what it was called). And now I use my food and catering skills (that was my professional background for many years) to help out at the Holiday Bike Drive – coordinating the food and beverage for the volunteers. You see, if you want to volunteer, the Community Cycling Center will find a way to utilize your unique skills!

How do you see your role with the Community Cycling Center making an impact on local communities?
These days, doing the food for the Holiday Bike Drive and a couple of other events is how I give my time to the Community Cycling Center. Volunteers at the Holiday Bike Drive need coffee and sustenance. That’s the part I play. I also am an advocate for kids on bikes. And I talk up the Community Cycling Center at every opportunity.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a cold winter day in Portland?
We’ve certainly had a lot of those lately! When it was snowy and icy, I had a blast putting on my YakTrax and hiking around the city, taking photos and visiting my mom. On our more “usual” cold days, I love to go hiking in the Gorge or out for a bike ride.

How has the Cycling Center changed, transitioned, and grown since you’ve been a part of the team?
The Community Cycling Center has had, I think, four Executive Directors since I started volunteering. The flavor of the organization changes with each one. I’ve seen the shop grow and expand, the office has moved a couple of times, programs have come and gone, fundraising has morphed and changed. Two things remain constant: The Community Cycling Center attracts amazing people – volunteers and staff; and the Holiday Bike Drive.

Thank you, Helen, and all volunteers!

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Hours: 10am-6pm daily (fall/winter)Bike Shop Address: 1700 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211

Phone: 503.287.8786Office/Mailing Address: 1805 NE 2nd Ave, Portland, OR 97212