Finalist for Nicest Place in America: Shorewood, Wisconsin
magine having 6,000 people you can count on at any given time. You might not know all their names or where they live, but they’re there for you—ready to help you when you need it.
That’s what it’s like for those of Shorewood, Wisconsin, thanks to a Facebook group that evolved into a community of kindness.
Changing Lives, One Facebook Post at a Time
In July 2014, Annie Monahan founded KidsCycle, a Facebook group for local families to earn a little extra money from selling toys, gently used items, and other things families need. Then devastation struck. One of the families in the group received a heartbreaking cancer diagnosis. When Monahan learned of this, she donated her earnings from her KidsCycle sales to the family in need.
That tiny gesture changed everything. Soon, other group members were following her example and the money poured in. From there, KidsCycle blossomed into a community that shares in its joys and sorrows while helping people across the region. Its motto, Love + Lift, inspires everything the group does—in Shorewood and beyond.
“This isn’t just a site to get stuff and give stuff,” says Katherine Gerlach. “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.”
The Table That Inspired a Life-Changing Fundraiser
One of those Kidcycle Facebook posts happened to be from a woman who had a table with three built-in baby seats (like a highchair but times three). She tagged her friend who was expecting triplets, but, unfortunately, the friend could not afford the triplet table and had to pass on the purchase.
“Having a friend with triplets, I knew that table was super useful and it seemed like the perfect match up,” says Beth Crysdale. “I encouraged others to pitch in to get the table for the triplet mom.”
After speaking with the woman, she learned that the woman’s family was growing to six children when the triplets arrived and joined her three other little ones. The reason the woman couldn’t afford the triplet table was because she was saving for a larger car to fit the entire family.
“I wanted to help more,” says Crysdale. “So I started a GoFundMe for the family and tried to do some fundraising.”
Through KidsCycle and the GoFundMe page, the community was able to raise enough money for the triplet table and a little extra money that went to the family’s new car purchase.
“People go a little further and offer a little more and are brave enough to ask for help because of that trust,” says Crysdale. “The addition of the "champion" mentality—or a call to action to ‘do better’ then amplifies it.”
Strangers Helping Strangers
Teresa Freding met Annie virtually through way of Facebook. She was in the midst of opening up a new local preschool, but was set back after discovering she had install a very expensive fire alarm system.
“She [Annie] 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,” says Freding.
Thanks to KidsCycle, $1,000 was raised that went to the preschools fire alarm system.
Another time, a KidsCycle member reached out that a friend lost everything in a fire. The KidsCycle community sprung into immediate action.
“The children were the same size as mine and I started filling bags with clothes and toys,” says Crysdale. “My 5-year-old daughter asked what I was doing, and when I explained what it would be like if we had a fire, she started collecting items too and asking if I thought the baby would like this.”
Recently, a family posted that their young son was diagnosed with leukemia. The boy was no longer able to share a bed with his sibling because of his weakened immune system. The family mentioned that they were looking to purchase a new bed.
“Within an hour, the page was filled with hundreds of comments from members donating beds, bedding, clothes, money for medical bills, etc,” says Kristin Belkofer. “The family was overwhelmed with gratitude.”
It’s small, simple acts like these that speak for KidsCycle’s generous and kind spirit. Most of the time it’s strangers helping other strangers, since the majority of communication is done online. Yet even though it’s all virtual, these families are able to form real friendships. Strangers become neighbors. And among those strangers, KidsCycle is a completely judgment-free forum.
Parents trade tips on all things related to being a parent: the good, bad, and the ugly. While nothing is too embarrassing to post, administrators have the option to post anonymously, allowing the group to tackle deeper issues like divorce, addiction, custody, and counseling. The Facebook group also has dedicated days to encourage members to speak freely, like Vent Friday and Gratitude Monday.
“What makes the group so special is everyone’s willingness to help and be involved. No one just watches stuff go by,” says Crysdale. “Not a day goes by that you don't see acts of kindness.”