KidsCycle: NS in Shorewood, WI

"Love and Lift"

Named a Finalist Because: This town outside of Milwaukee created a Facebook page to ensure that all of its citizens are looked after.

From the Editors: Many people feel comfortable knowing that if they need to borrow a tool or even a few bucks—or maybe they just need a shoulder to cry on—they can walk a few feet and knock on their neighbor’s door. But in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a Facebook group called KidsCycle: NS has helped residents explode the definition of “neighbor” in surprisingly personal ways. “There are over 6,000 people in this [Facebook] community,” says Kristin Belkofer. “But it feels like we all know one another personally.”

Created in 2014 by Annie Monahan, a former teacher and mother of five young children, KidsCycle: NS started off as a buy-sell-trade page: I’ll sell you my old fish tank for a good price, that sort of thing. The idea was that families in Shorewood, a suburb of 13,000 just north of Milwaukee, could earn spending money while maybe getting to know their fellow Shorewoodians. Then one day, a KidsCycle: NS member received devastating news: her son had been diagnosed with leukemia. Annie did what came naturally and donated her earnings from the page to that family. Soon, others followed her lead. The page filled with pledges of clothes, money, and food, not to mention a mountain of good wishes and prayers. “Come as you are and be who you are” is how Belkofer described KidsCycle: NS in her nomination. “It’s amazing how many connections are made, and I finally feel like I’m a part of a community bigger than myself.”

Bigger indeed. KidsCycle has become a charitable organization—more like a movement, really—devoted to the page’s motto: Love + Lift, with members giving fire victims what they need to rebuild, dropping food off to shelters, writing Valentine’s Day cards for nursing home residents, donating breast milk to a mother with cancer. There are plenty of local online parents’ groups, but few are a community of caring on this scale. “The kindness that has been inspired is unprecedented,” says Amanda Buhrman, a KidsCycle member. “Hoping this inspires others to love and lift across the world!”

Read the nomination from Beth Crysdale, Kristin Belkofer, Katherine Gerlach, and Teresa Freding below to learn more about why KidsCycle: NS might just be the Nicest Place in America.

—The Editors

KidsCycle throws a bouncy house playdate for kids and their families to bond together. (Credit: Beth Crysdale)

At first glance, the KidsCycle: NS Facebook group looks like another buy-sell-trade page you often see popping up all over Facebook, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a place where mothers connect, toys are exchanged and everyone supports one another from finding a child’s favorite lost toy to delivering a cup of coffee to a mother in need. The whole community works to keep it nice, judgement-free, and caring. Come as you are and be who you are. It’s amazing how many connections are made and I finally feel like I’m a part of a community bigger than myself. 

In July 2014, Annie Monahan, Kidscycle’s founder, chief-administrator, and mother of five, started the Facebook group so families could earn a little extra money from selling toys, gently used items, amongst other valuables, but also give families on a limited budget access to resources for a low cost. Soon, the group transformed into an uplifting forum based on the principles of generosity and kindness thanks to Monahan’s inspiring gesture. She heard that a family had received a cancer diagnosis and donated her earnings from her Kidscycle sales to the family in need.

Her small act of kindness spread like wildfire across the Facebook community and soon other group members were following suit. In fact, the group has contributed home and personal items to victims of a fire, made valentines for a nursing home, tracked down owners of missing blankets and toys left at local parks, donated to food pantries and women’s shelters, raised money for cancer victims, and donated breast milk to a mom with cancer.

No act of kindness is too big or too small for KidsCycle: NS. One little boy needed stitches on his finger and the next day, his mother found a bag of toys for him, beers for her, and a bag full of First-Aid goodies like Neosporin and band-aids on their front porch all courtesy of KidsCycle. People even post notes of gratitude and thanks to their babysitters or offer sage advice on things like how to make laundry easier.

Kristin’s Story (Families Caring For Families)

There are over 6,000 people in this community, but it feels like we all know one another personally. Members will share vulnerabilities as parents such as kid’s behavior and health problems, feeling overwhelmed, financial struggles, etc. and the community responds with nothing but support and love. The community is extremely trusting of each other. Mothers I’ve never met in real life have lent me baby items, shared advice, and wished me luck in my pregnancy. It’s amazing to see what people share with others — whether its kids’ items they no longer use, spa days, coffee shop gift cards, etc. All is given away simply as a random act of kindness for other mothers who need a lift.

Love + Lift is the KidsCycle motto to inspire members to love one another and help those in need. (Credit: Kristin Belkofer)

Recently, a member posted that a family within the community had just received the devastating news that their young son was diagnosed with leukemia. The family mentioned that they needed a new bed because the young boy would no longer be able to share a room with his siblings due to compromised immunity. Within an hour, the page was filled with hundreds of comments from members donating beds, bedding, clothes, money for medical bills, etc. The family was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Similarly, a member recently posted about their friends, a gay couple, who were adopting a baby of another friend who could no longer care for the child. Since the couple did not plan for this, they had no items ready for the baby. Once again, the community rallied with donations and words of encouragement and support.

Since the concept of “Love + Lift” is so wildly popular, Annie has worked to create a nonprofit 501c3 status for the group in order to raise money for families in need around the area.

Katherine’s Story (KidsCycle: The Muse of Kindness)

Love + Lift is more than just a motto; it’s a lifestyle. Annie Monahan is my sister and the founder of KidsCycle:NS. Nearly three years ago, she gave birth to her fifth child, Charlie, who was premature and required hospitalization for a month. During this time, she was nervous and needed something to distract her from the realization the she didn’t have her baby safe at home. As an avid E-bay buyer, she grew tired of the shipping fees and negativity regarding its users, so she started KidsCycle, a local buy, sell, trade Facebook website. But true to herself, she had her own twist — don’t just sell stuff but acquaint yourself with the person your selling to and make meaningful connections with those around you. Thus, a community was born. She would post monthly challenges such as sharing a difficult time, a funny story, or saying something beautiful to someone.

Annie Monahan, KidsCycle founder, has made a positive impact on her community that all began with a Facebook group and an act of kindness. (Credit: Katherine Gerlach)

But in February 2015,  the mother of all challenges happened. Annie asked everyone to give something away for free. She offered to do someone’s laundry, someone else offered to come clean up dog poop, and so on. Eventually train tickets, gift cards, salon packages, homemade meals, literally anything you can think of was being offered up for free and for fun. It was infectious to say the least and every day for an entire month people generously gave their time and resources for free. It didn’t matter whether you donated something worth $5 or $50, it was the act that mattered.

Many cars in Shorewood don the “Love + Lift” bumper sticker slogan spur the community to continue to loving and lifting each other up. (Credit: Katherine Gerlach)

This isn’t just a site to get stuff and give stuff. From the beginning, Annie encouraged members to support each other, be kind to one another, lift each other up, and stand strong together. If you need advice on how to potty train your child, post it. If you need advice on how to keep your romance alive, post it. If your child is sick, post it. In less than 10 minutes, there will be an outpouring of advice, sympathy, encouragement, and support that you never knew existed by people living next door or around the corner. KidsCycle is now called Love + Lift and is officially a nonprofit organization where you can still buy, sell, trade, seek advice and connect with other mothers, but now focuses on community outreach like support for families suffering from medical hardship, scholarships for children, anti-bullying events, and diversity awareness events.

Shorewood is arguably a brighter place since its community started “loving and lifting” and I couldn’t be more proud of my sister. I’m moving to Shorewood in one month and I can’t wait to start lifting, literally and figuratively!

Teresa’s Story (KidsCycle Uplifting One Person At a Time)

I first met Annie, virtually, because of the Facebook group.  I was in the midst of opening a new preschool and was heartbroken when I discovered the need to install a fire alarm system.  She learned of this and without ever even meeting me, she said, “We’re going to get through this!” I was so moved by the attitude of “we” in her words. Thanks to her, the KidsCycle group raised $1000 for my preschool! The outpouring of love and support felt incredible.          

Mothers from all walks of life have forged strong friendships in the KidsCycle community. (Credit: Teresa Freding)

One definition for neighbor is a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans. It’s encouraging to see how the KidsCycle group has developed supportive relationships between women of all ages; young moms seeking wisdom, injured women seeking support, depressed women seeking help, families needing food, people needing to vent/be heard/loved.