Quick to smile. Quick to laugh. Always ready with a hug and eager for the next ride on his “cool bike.” Although Owen Lewis’s time on Earth was cut tragically short, it was brimming with love.
Now, Owen’s parents—Troy University professors Onick and Heather Lewis—are working to ensure that love carries forward into the lives of others through a pair of philanthropies: the Owen Wayne Lewis Memorial Scholarship at Troy University and O’s Cool Bike Foundation.
Two-year-old Owen passed away in April of this year, and when his parents look back at his life, his early love of bikes is a cherished memory.
“Owen started riding a balance bike at 17 months, and by the time he was two-and-a-half he was balancing and moving towards a regular bike,” Onick said. “I grew up riding bikes my entire life, but I realize that not every kid is able to afford a bike.”
Wanting other families to have cherished memories of riding together, the Lewis family launched O’s Cool Bike Foundation to collect balance bikes for children in the Troy Head Start program. Thanks to the generosity of many donors, they are well on their way to their goal of 100 bikes, with plans to give them out around Christmas and hold a charitable bike ride on the Troy Campus in the spring.
“We want to allow the children to ride around Troy University and be a part of something they may not always have been able to do, coming to a college campus and fostering a love of cycling at an early age,” Onick said.
In addition to the bike foundation, Onick and Heather have established a memorial scholarship in Owen’s name which will support students in the programs they teach—social work, human services or hospitality, tourism, and event management—with a focus on first-generation college students.
“We’ve both been pushed our entire lives to believe that higher education is extremely important,” Heather said. “For us, if we can help a first-generation college student get that extra little bit of help to keep going, then we are doing something good.”
For Onick, the scholarship’s focus on first-generation students is rooted in personal experience. Born in Jamaica before moving to Washington D.C. and later West Virginia, Onick is both a first-generation American and a first-generation college student. He knows all too well the challenges often faced by students who are the first in their families to attend college.
“Finances should never be the reason why a student can’t make it, but unfortunately it is often the reason why students drop out,” Onick said. “If we can provide a little help so that a student can stay even a semester longer, maybe it can help them get all the way to graduation.”
The goal is for the annual spring bike ride in Owen’s memory to serve as a fundraiser for the scholarship program, allowing it to help more people. Donations can also be made to the scholarship fund online at www.troy.edu/owenlewis.
“We just want Owen to live on forever through our efforts,” Heather said. “Through the foundation and the scholarship, we want him to be riding on forever.”