2017 ESL Jefferson Award winner: Dan Lill

March 30, 2018 01:33 PM

Each year, we ask our viewers to nominate people from our community for their volunteerism. The ESL Jefferson Awards are part of the national Jefferson Award Foundation which strives to build a culture of service in communities across the country. Founded in 1972 by well-known public servants including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious honor of its kind.

Dan Lill is just one person but he’s convinced 160 people to volunteer with him every week so that people can get around Rochester. They can bike to their job or ride to the grocery store to get food for their family.

It all started 17 years ago when he was serving lunch to the homeless with a friend, Bill D’Anza. A woman asked them if they could help her fix the flat tire on her bike and it kind of grew from there. The operation eventually outgrew his garage and is now officially a non-profit organization called R Community Bikes, located on Hudson Avenue.

Dan Lill is retired from teaching, but he’s busier than ever working for free. "I’m the director, so I make double what all the other volunteers make. Two times zero. Zero.”

But he loves what he does to lead the organization that gives away donated bikes and repairs others to keep them on the road. He admits he’s not really a mechanic and he doesn’t even ride a bike! But he’s pretty good at motivating people to help others.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, people line up outside the R Community Bikes building at 226 Hudson Avenue. They are let in one or two people at a time to get fitted for a bike and find the perfect mode of transportation. “I used to see people come here but I didn't know what it was all about... I like it... I think it's good for the community,” says Latesha Williams who rode off with a new bike.

Lill is big on recycling and gets the volunteers to break down used bikes and re-use the parts on other bikes. Dan Lill says, “We try to recycle as many things as we can and you think of how many bicycles we've kept out of the landfill over 15 or 16 years, it's in the thousands of tons of metal we've kept out of landfills.”

Ellen, his wife of 47 years, keeps track of all the bikes that come in and go out. She also maintains a lending library and hands out books to those who stop by.

“It's become a big part of our lives. He loves it here  and the place itself has a life of its own,” says Ellen Lill. “We're not a faith-based organization but we know we're not doing this by ourselves. Someone is watching us. Whoever that is, she is doing a great job-- or he' is doing a great job! We don't care who it is because good things just keep happening to us and we're grateful for that,” says Dan Lill.

Last year the volunteers at “R Community Bikes” repaired 4,341 bikes and gave away 2,775 bikes. Most would agree those are pretty incredible numbers when you think, it all started with one person needing some help.



Rebecca Leclair

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