HOLYOKE — The Western Mass. Hyundai dealers (Balise, Gary Rome, and Country) surprised Bob “the Bike Man” Charland with a new 2023 Hyundai Tucson yesterday at his repair shop at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
Charland is the founder of Pedal Thru Youth Inc. He started working with children in 2003 when he led a Girl Scout troop for his daughter and coached her softball team. He started teaching automotive for Willie Ross School for the Deaf in 2012. Around the same time, he started fixing up bikes to donate to less fortunate kids.
In 2017, after being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, he decided that he wanted to create a formal organization and start donating bikes to large groups of children. Thus, the idea for Pedal Thru Youth was born. Charland has made significant contributions to the community that also includes volunteering his time to supply law-enforcement agencies around Massachusetts and Connecticut with backpacks filled with essential supplies for the homeless.
Hyundai Salute To Heroes is an annual event that was launched in 2021 and brought to the Western Mass. region by Gary Rome, president of Gary Rome Hyundai and president of the Hyundai Dealers Advertising Assoc., to recognize local, everyday heroes. The Hyundai Tucson SEL AWD is valued at $33,495, and the dealers are paying for all taxes and fees associated with the vehicle.
“Salute to Heroes is our way, as a dealer body, to acknowledge the ordinary people of our Western Mass. community who selflessly do heroic things,” Rome said. “Our local communities continue to go through so much; Salute to Heroes is the Western Mass. Hyundai dealers’ way of saying thank you.”
The 29-day nomination period ended on Nov. 20, and anyone at least 18 years old who lives in Franklin, Hampshire, or Hampden county was eligible to win. Nominations were entered at www.hyundaisalutetoheroes.com, where 300-word essays about why the nominee is deserving of a new car were submitted.
Thirty finalists were chosen, and three local community leaders volunteered their time as honorary judges to vote on the final winner. This year’s appointed judges were Anthony Cignoli, president of A.L Cignoli & Associates; Denise Jordan, executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority; and Linda Thompson, president of Westfield State University.
Last year, Westfield High School teacher Kristen Biancuzzo was the winner of the Salute to Heroes contest.