Special Pedals creates opportunities for all, launches fundraiser
Neurodiversity refers to the variation in human brain chemistry regarding sociability, learning, and attention.
LEAH SHERRILL is the founder of Special Pedals, Inc., a nonprofit that aims to provide special education and equal opportunity employment for neurodiverse adults who are finishing high school and are interested in learning bike repair. Sherrill believes neurological variations should be viewed as a unique way of thinking and processing information, not a disability.
“Individuals who are neurodiverse should cohabitate and work alongside their neurotypical peers while provided with specialized support and adaptations available within the community,” Sherrill says.
In 2015, while taking classes towards her degree in special education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Sherrill started Special Pedals, Inc. The organization has grown from teaching bike maintenance workshops to repairing bikes from a mobile truck and doing repairs from a family’s front lawn to the current refurbishment of a storefront in downtown Wilmington.
When opened, the store will offer basic bike repairs, and sell refurbished bicycles, upcycled art, and records.
Sherrill truly understands the neurodiverse community. For the past five years since graduating college, Sherrill has been an adaptive special education teacher at Topsail Elementary School where students receive specialized instruction on an alternative curriculum.
“Because the education is individualized, the certificate the students receive does not hold the same weight as a high school diploma when applying for college and jobs,” Sherrill says.
During college, Sherrill worked at Easterseals helping clients set community goals, find employment, and live independently. It was here that she met STEPHANIE GLATT. After tireless efforts to find Glatt a job with sufficient hours and pay that matched her interests and utilized her strong communication skills, Glatt’s parents encouraged Sherrill to pursue an idea for a program like Special Pedals, Inc.
As her first mentors, Glatt’s parents, who eventually offered their front yard for neighborhood bike repairs, guided Sherrill to the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) which nurtures emerging ventures and connects entrepreneurs to a world of startup support services.
With the support of CIE and mentor DAVID MORRISON, Sherrill turned her idea into reality. She started fundraising and purchased a box truck, all cash. By her senior year at UNCW, Sherrill had a mobile bike repair program set up on campus.
“I didn’t know anything about writing a business plan or bike repair. All I knew was how to teach and advocate for students who have special learning needs,” Sherrill recalls. “Education is where my heart is. I wanted to build an educational program and bikes seemed like a great outlet to do this.”
Sherrill learned how to repair bikes from JOHN PESACKIS, her business partner for the past five years, at Two Wheeler Dealer in Wilmington. After shadowing Pesackis, Sherrill broke the instructions down to teach to neurodiverse adults who went on the road with the truck on weekends earning money.
As the executive director, Sherrill is responsible for program development, event planning, and fundraising. She has added an art education program and a sales/marketing team, and is currently looking for new board of directors.
The new storefront is expected to enable Special Pedals, Inc. to offer a more consistent employment option. Sherrill’s long-term goal is to operate a bicycle shop that is a competitive employer where neurodiverse adults work right alongside those who are neurotypical.
The organization has launched a campaign to raise funds to renovate the new storefront, with the goal of raising $50,000.
“My mission is to build a community where neurodiverse adults have equal representation and opportunity for education and employment related to their interests leading to a fulfilling lifestyle,” she says.
Visit specialpedalsinc.org to see the financial and volunteer needs of the new storefront located on Fourth and Red Cross Street.
To view more of photographer Aris Harding’s work, go to arisharding.com.
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