Aptos High School senior Iman Moshari, 18, can’t stand the idea of decent bikes going unused while there are many people in need of a way to get around.
To fix that problem, last year he started his own nonprofit initiative, Bikes4All, where he and fellow high school volunteers collect unused or abandoned bikes, repair them and give them away at no cost to people who apply for one. They’ve given away about 70 bikes so far.
Much to his surprise, Moshari found out last month that his idea helped him win a full-ride, four-year scholarship to whichever university he goes to next fall.
He’s one of 99 finalists who competed against 143,000 global applicants to win the Rise Challenge. The program aims to provide educational and entrepreneurial opportunities to young adults who are striving to fix problems, including offering scholarships based on financial need.
The Rise Challenge was created by Schmidt Futures and the Rhodes Trust in 2019. Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic foundation created by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy. Rhodes Trust, based at the University of Oxford, is an educational charity that also oversees the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s most prestigious academic programs.
Moshari, who wants to be a doctor, applied to the Rise program in January. He was shocked and relieved that the financial pressure of paying for his education is off his family.
“I feel like my whole life has been characterized by feelings of powerlessness, and almost every action I do is to regain that power and give it back to people and help people get their own power,” he said. “That’s a lot of what I do — like with Bikes4All, I want to give people the ability to go where they want.”
Moshari’s feelings of powerlessness stem from a series of life-altering events that started when he was a child. Born in Tehran, Iran, Moshari and his parents moved to the Bay Area when he was about 4 years old. After a tumultuous transition to their new home that included his parents’ separation and a brief period of homelessness, Moshari and his mother eventually settled in Santa Cruz County.
Frustrated that his preschool classmates didn’t speak Farsi, 5-year-old Moshari got into fights with fellow students. He was held back that year. As a fourth grader, he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which resulted in hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease makes the autoimmune system see the thyroid as an enemy and attacks it. Years later, Stanford University doctors removed his thyroid.
Moshari said the decision to move to the United States wasn’t his choice. Getting Graves’ disease wasn’t his choice. Not having his dad around wasn’t his choice.
“So my whole life I felt like I haven’t been able to control it. I’ve just been going through it. But one thing I could control, which was an amazing outlet for me, was bikes,” he said. “I can control how much effort my body puts in and if I put in more effort, I could bike farther.”
Moshari got his first bike when he was 6. He didn’t like it at first and struggled to take the training wheels off. But when he got old enough to start riding to school, he got into a rhythm and soon became obsessed.
He started to get serious about biking and got several of his friends to join him for long rides around the county. Moshari eventually saved enough of his birthday money to get a $2,800 Santa Cruz brand mountain bike, called the Tallboy, his sophomore year.
At the end of that year, he found out that abandoned bikes stored by the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s lost and found are tossed into the dump.
“I was just heartbroken,” he said. “It’s like how some people love Taylor Swift a little too much — I love bikes a little too much.”
He launched Bikes4All at the beginning of his junior year. Moshari and several other Aptos High student volunteers collect unused or abandoned bikes from local organizations and individuals, repair them at Moshari’s home and then give them to people who apply through their website.
To get the word out about their project and to find bikes, Moshari reached out to law enforcement agencies to request bikes and the students post flyers in areas of the county with a lot of foot traffic, like West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz.
He’s spent about $450 of his own savings to pay for bike parts to do the repairs. But he’s also trying to raise money through a donations page on Bikes4All’s website.
Aptos High students are required to complete at least 40 hours of community service to graduate, and Moshari estimates that about 10 students have been able to complete their service hours with Bikes4All.
It was several months into starting Bikes4All that Moshari applied to the Rise Challenge. He had just found out he had been accepted into summer school programs at Stanford and Johns Hopkins University, but because they cost $20,000 and $6,000, respectively, he couldn’t attend. While it was a low point for him, it led him to start the search for scholarships, and he stumbled upon Rise.
He realized that Bikes4All fulfilled what the organization was looking for: a young adult with a project that seeks to serve others and fix a problem.
For the application which included multiple rounds, Moshari submitted several short videos about Bikes4All, took an IQ test, played a video game, reviewed fellow applicants’ submissions and interviewed. He found out he was a finalist on Oct. 15 while he was in the shower and checked his phone.
“I cannot believe it. I didn’t know what it was at first,” said his mom, Azam Abedi. “He told me, ‘Mom, I won.’ And little by little, people called me. I’m kind of relieved, I think it will help him get closer to starting his dream.”
Abedi recalled how years ago, she struggled to save money to buy Moshari a bike, “and he saw it was hard for me.” Now she’s proud to see her son helping other people who were in the same financial position that they were at one time. “Whenever he wants to do something he works to do it,” she said.
Moshari’s friend Leo Seidler, who has helped him with Bikes4All since the start, said Moshari “went above and beyond” to make sure the initiative was successful. He recalled how it was difficult at first for the students to get in touch with state parks officials to get bikes. They thought they had hit a dead end. Moshari then decided to reach out to the Capitola Police Department, which quickly jumped on the idea to donate bikes to Bikes4All.
Seidler, also a senior at Aptos High, is planning to attend Cabrillo College and will work to keep Bikes4All alive after Moshari graduates in the spring. Moshari said he’ll continue to be involved at a distance while he attends university in another city, and at the moment he doesn’t plan to try to make Bikes4All go national. He wants to make sure it’s a good operation locally before expanding.
Moshari finds out Dec. 1 whether he has gotten into one of his top four choices for early admission for university: Stanford, Brown University, Johns Hopkins or Columbia University.
His top choice is Stanford, because it was Stanford doctors who performed his thyroid operation when he was younger. “Stanford saved my life, so I want to go there,” he said.
If he gets into one of those four schools, he’s contractually obligated to go because his full university expenses will be paid for by a second program he was accepted into, called QuestBridge.
The nonprofit organization provides resources for college to high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds, including four-year, full-ride scholarships. Moshari applied to QuestBridge before he found out about the Rise program. If he gets the QuestBridge scholarship, he said he’s not sure what will happen with the scholarship from the Rise Challenge.
“So, I’ll be asking Rise, can you guys pay for post-graduate please?” said Moshari, laughing.
If he doesn’t get accepted during the early decision round, he can then apply via regular decision to the same schools. If he is accepted during the regular decision, he might not be eligible for the QuestBridge scholarship, but would still be able to receive the Rise program’s benefits.
While Moshari imagines returning to Santa Cruz to live permanently, he also eventually wants to go back to Iran and open his own medical clinic.
“I absolutely do want to stay in Santa Cruz forever. But I mean, with the traffic, no, we’ve got to do something about that,” he said, jokingly. “But I typically set really high goals for myself, because I believe if you aim high enough, you’re gonna land somewhere around there. So, I set this goal for myself to eventually go back to Iran, open up my own clinic, and help people.”
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