Libertyville 12-year-old will ‘pay it forward’
CJ Allen, 12, of Libertyville, a seventh-grader at Highland Middle School, received a donation to replace a bicycle that was stolen from the bike rack at school. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:12AM
LIBERTYVILLE — CJ Allen still can’t believe that people reached out to help him replace his bike when it was stolen in June.
More than two months later, the offers still are coming — even from halfway around the world.
“Now someone in Australia — Australia of all places — wants to buy me a bike,” said Allen, of Libertyville.
Luke Chadwick of Melbourne read an excerpt from the letter to the editor written by CJ and his mom, Mary Allen, that appeared in a story on blog.priceonomics.com.
“When I was 11, sometime in 1993, my bike got stolen from in front of my father’s shop,” Chadwick said. “I remember how shattered I felt at the time, so I figured I would see if I could contact Mary and offer to buy CJ a new bike.”
The Allens heard from Chadwick on Aug. 28. They replied immediately to let him know an anonymous donor had donated $300 toward the cost of a new bike after reading their letter in June.
Mary Allen said she helped her son write about the incident that affected him so deeply to help him heal. The bike meant a lot to CJ.
“It represented freedom,” he said.
The youngest of four boys, CJ usually gets hand-me-downs from his older brothers. The black-and-green Trek he got in August 2011 was the first bike bought especially for him.
When it was stolen from the bike rack where it was locked at his school overnight, CJ was devastated. That’s when his mom suggested writing the letter to the editor.
“We didn’t want money,” CJ said. “We wanted my bike back.”
Mary Allen said she wanted to let her son know he had an advocate.
“I wanted him to change from a feeling of being powerless to knowing that you can do something to heal,” she said.
Though he still misses his old bike, CJ has healed. But he still can’t believe the owner of M & M Cyclery in Mundelein offered to give him a new bike, a secretary at his elementary school paid for a better lock, a woman in California offered to start a fund-raising campaign and others from around the world care.
“What 12-year-old kid would think the letter to the editor he wrote with his mom would make it on 78 different blogs and have multiple likes and tweets on Twitter and Facebook?” the Highland Middle School seventh-grader said. “It just blows me away.”
CJ takes away an important lesson from the experience.
“It has restored my faith in humanity,” he said. “There are not only bad people. Good will always win.”
CJ hopes to harness the power of the Internet that got attention for his situation to help others avoid the same fate by starting a website that would list bike serial numbers or some other service that would make it more difficult for thieves to resell stolen bikes. Doing that will fulfill the promise he made to the anonymous donor to “pay it forward” — a stipulation that drove CJ to accept the donation.
He thinks often of inspiring words from the movie “Letters from Iwo Jima” to help him on his journey to protect other bike owners.
“Do what is right, because it is right,” CJ said. “I just like that saying now, because it is true.”