Before 2015 came to a close, Neighborhood Bike Works youth graduates tightened the final bolts on a total of 275 brand new Huffy children's bikes. The bikes, shiny streamers and all, were distributed to local shelters and community projects as part of our annual CH2M Hill Winter Bike Build. This was our ninth year running this project, and this year we made a few healthy tweaks to make the program a better learning opportunity and more fun.
Each year, CH2M Hill has raised the funds to allow us to hire NBW teen graduates to build the bikes. Because the Winter Bike Build is a paid opportunity for NBW youth, we built in a few lessons about personal finance. NBW staff and the young mechanics discussed using check cashing centers vs. banks or credit unions, basic budgeting techniques, and how to anticipate net pay. Financial literacy hasn't always been part of our curriculum, but as we've created more opportunities for youth to earn money at NBW, we've also added these kinds of practical life skills sessions.
Another exciting tweak to this year's program was that we asked the teens to choose someone they know personally who would appreciate a bike, and then challenged them to refurbish one just for them. This new pay it forward opportunity brought forth some truly overjoyed family members, and proud mechanics too. We loved to watch 17-year old Desiree give her younger brother his very first bike at the final Bike Build ceremony.
In 2015, we were able to launch Freedom to Ride thanks to generous grant funding from Impact100 Philadelphia. The funding allowed us to widen our reach by offering a comprehensive program for youth at schools and community centers in West and Southwest Philadelphia neighborhoods in which they refurbished a donated bike of their choosing and used that bike to explore local greenspaces.
Freedom to Ride sessions met twice a week, for a total of 40 hours, at schools, libraries, and community centers throughout West and Southwest Philadelphia. Students learned bicycle mechanics by refurbishing a used bicycle of their choice, then embarking on group rides to Philly’s greenspaces, having learned the rules of the road and general tips on fitness and nutrition. Each session ended with a graduation celebration to honor students’ accomplishments, and everyone took home their new bike, helmet, and U-lock! Our programs instill confidence, inspire a spirit of adventure, and build skills relevant to future success.
Each November, Neighborhood Bike Works celebrates the life of cyclist Major Taylor, the first African American world champion, along with the accomplishments of our youth participants. This year, over 40 community members, NBW youth participants, their families, and young riders from Cadence Youth Cycling came out to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather and hot food.
The day began with a scenic ride from NBW’s headquarters in West Philadelphia into Fairmount Park. In addition to our group of youth riding bikes they have built themselves, we also had a group of people riding Indego Bike Share bikes this year! When we arrived in the park, we played games and learned about Major Taylor until the food was ready. This year we had an especially delicious feast thanks to our volunteers and to a sponsorship from Stradley Ronon.
Three youth at NBW received awards for their exemplary accomplishments over the past year. These youth have shown extraordinary leadership and dedication in many of our programs this past year - as apprentices, assistant instructors, and as Bike Share Ambassadors. To check out photos of our adventure, look here.
This fall we have run two Earn-A-Bike classes – one for high school students and the other for all ages 8-18. Students spend most of their time in the shop fixing up their bikes rather than outdoors riding. Some of our favorite days, though, are when we get outside, once for a bike safety rodeo and a second time to test the bikes we’ve fixed up at the end of the class.
In those two classes, students either show off their riding skills or struggle. While some students maneuver easily between cones and practice signaling to traffic, others grip their handlebars tightly and keep their gazes forward, unable to spare a backwards glance. These are the students we root for the most on ride days. We hope that their involvement with NBW will spark an excitement in riding and exploring. We hope that by riding in a group of their peers, they’ll gain confidence and find joy in an active lifestyle.
This fall, Aisha joined our high school Earn-A-Bike class with a big attitude, but shaky bike handling skills. As a teenager she still wasn't confident on a bike. During the safety rodeo she rode in fits and starts.
But six weeks later, her determination won out. She mounted her newly refurbished bike, a bright red step-through road bike, for a test ride. This time she rode steadily, if slowly. Aisha's usual sass was replaced by focus. As she rode smoothly past the instructor, a tear rolled down her cheek.
Our younger students surprise us too. Two of our new students, ages 8 and 11, signed up to build a bike without yet knowing how to ride. When they picked out bikes to work on, our instructor knew both bikes would need training wheels and both students would need a healthy dose of support and confidence to roll the bikes forward on their own.
Last week, during a fitness lesson, the two had the chance to practice riding on indoor stationary trainers. This week, with a donated pair of training wheels attached to each bike and traffic blocked off, the young riders will have their first chance to recall the muscle memory from the trainers. We'll be rooting for them at Saunders Park.