You never know how much a small gesture can make a huge impact on another person's life.
On Wednesday, May 25, and Thursday, May 26, Bills' defensive tackle Eli Ankou and his fiancée Shayna Powless surprised kids in indigenous communities with a free bike. The first night of the event took place at the Cattaraugus Community Center and on the second night, it was at the Allegany Community Center.
The events were hosted by the Chief Marshals along with Ankou and Powless' Dreamcatcher Foundation. They worked with the Allegany reservation's H.E.R.O Committee to present the bikes to the children on the Allegany Reservation. The Dreamcatcher Foundation was started by the couple in 2019 and targets certain issues facing indigenous communities. One of the focuses of the foundation has been bringing attention to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Now they are branching out to tackle other issues.
"Another focus we have is to be able to give an outlet for sports to kids in indigenous communities," Ankou said. "In this case, you're looking at something like being able to get bicycles or sports equipment out, and just giving them the opportunity to live an active lifestyle and figure themselves out through sports. A lot of times kids don't really know what they want to do or sometimes they just find their passion through, something very random, like a bike distribution."
Ankou and Powless built 200 bikes to be split among the two locations and to be picked up by any kid in that community who needed one. Along with the bike, every kid got a new helmet as well. This event was a surprise to the kids which made it so much more special when the couple came out and showed the kids their new set of wheels.
Ankou was proud of how this event came together and the impact he could make in these kids' lives. The importance of giving back to others is something the defensive tackle learned at a young age.
"My father is from Togo, he's African, and my mother is Ojibwe and Caucasian," Ankou said. "And being raised with those values definitely helped us grow into who we are today, myself and my siblings. The act of giving is such an integral part of our culture that we don't really think twice about it.
Ankou's fiancée is a professional cyclist. Powless has hosted numerous community cycling events including several trips to different Native American reservations. She has family ties to the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. Ankou and Powless want to send the message that anyone has the power to give back and positively impact another person's life.
"This is not just really a thing for me to do," Ankou added. "I think what it should be seen as from me, and Shana is a catalyst that anyone can do this. Anyone can organize it and obviously, it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of organization but being able to give to the people around you is such a good thing. It's a good feeling.
"And it helps uplift many lives that otherwise either wouldn't have too much direction or sometimes all we need is a nudge. I find that especially true for children who are just trying to find themselves in the world. And for us, we think that it's a very important aspect of our culture. Being Ojibwe, having those values instilled into me from an early age is something that has carried me through into my adulthood."
For more information about the Dreamcatcher Foundation, click here.