Bikes 4 Peace!

by Jessica Maxwell

At the beginning of summer, several SPC volunteers and staff sat down and brainstormed a list of potential projects to address local youth violence issues. Therewas overwhelming interest and energy for organizing youth bike workshops. Our goal was to find volunteers with experience fixing bikes, a couple of sets of bike tools, and some basic supplies and set up afternoon workshops at community centers around the city. We hoped to not only share basic mechanical skills with the kids, but to create a space that would foster cooperative learning and positive recreation. Our vision was to provide equipment and supplies and to support the youth as they fixed their own bikes.

The first two workshops were held at the Westcott Community Center (WCC) in July. Almost without exception, we were met by enthusiastic kids eager to learn what the tools were and how they were used to fix basic bike problems. Some of the kids were so excited that they stayed to help us fix other bikes as well. “When I grow up, I would like to have a business like this,” a young boy commented at the end of our first workshop. A young woman who came to the second workshop left after fixing her own bike and returned with her father’s to fix. We attracted much attention from passersby at the busy intersection of Euclid and Westcott.
We scheduled the last two workshops for the Northeast Community Center (NECC) in August. Unfortunately, it rained heavily on the first date, and we had to cancel. We used the extra time to focus on outreach. The Post Standard ran a small blurb in the paper the day of the last workshop, and we received a dozen calls at SPC by mid-afternoon. We set up in the NECC parking lot, and there were already two cars full of kids (5) and bikes (6) waiting for us when we arrived – and things only got busier. At one point our three volunteers were working with youth on a dozen bikes at once! As each new person arrived with a bike, we signed them up on a list with their name, type/color of bike, and repairs that were needed. We then matched up each youth with a volunteer. Many needed the same or similar repairs, so we often worked in small groups rather than one-on-one.

Most of the youth have spent time working on their bikes on their own – but often without the necessary tools and repair supplies – so they were able to pick up the skills quickly. When they became frustrated or discouraged, we offered encouragement and recruited others to help brainstorm solutions. In fact, we didn’t even have to ask. The youth frequently checked in with each other and offered to share whatever skills they had. After I commented on how quickly and efficiently a group of three worked together to put a tire back on, one of them replied with a big grin, “Can I work for you guys?”

We’re exploring making this a long-term project and welcome anyone interested in working with us or providing donations of tools and supplies.