Community Bike Works: Earn a Bike
After Tami completed the Earn a Bike program at Community Bike Works, she moved on to serve as a youth apprentice for the organization. A few years later, when it was time to consider college, she secured a job as a bike mechanic at Target to help cover the cost of her courses. She is now studying for a degree in Early Childhood Education. A young boy signed up for the Earn A Bike program at the encouragement of his father, a graduate of the program who also now serves on the organization’s Board of Directors. The dedicated staff at Community Bike Works includes two full time employees who were once among the crowd of kids who fill the shop each day.
These are a few of the unique examples of impact that can only be shared after a program has been running long enough to have history. And Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, says the popularity of the Earn a Bike program has only grown over two decades.
In this program, youth aged nine to 17-years-old team up with adult mentors for a 12-week course in bike mechanics and bike safety. While repairing and practicing on donated bicycles, students read a mechanics manual, complete journal entries, and write thank you letters to people who have donated the bikes. Once students complete their classes and graduate, they earn a refurbished bike and new helmet.
At 17, Maximo, then an 11th grader at Allen High School, decided to sign up for the program. He still shows excitement recalling that day he picked out his bike and says it was the best part of the program.
“I saw this bike in the storage area on the first day,” he admits. “It was all white with a cool design. I really hoped no one else would pick it.” Maximo lucked out and, today, that bike is his.
Junior Earn a Bike follows the same model for seven- and eight-year-olds with a sampling of each of the Community Bike Works core skills: Reading, Riding, and Wrenching, as students read a bike-related story, practice bike riding and learn basic mechanics.
The programs are held at the organization’s downtown location, in Allentown and Bethlehem schools, and at a new East Allentown location. Through these sites, more than 500 young people have the opportunity to earn bikes each year, with a most recent year also tolling 19,700 hours of mentoring services through 9,500 visits by youth to the sites. These powerful numbers are more striking when placed in context of the population being served, as virtually 100 percent of the youth live in families with low incomes.
That’s why Community Bike Works focuses on keeping the young people engaged in other activities even after they have earned their bike. The organization opens its door every Monday through Friday after school for homework space, crafts, and games even before the kids move over to the shop area to work on bike mechanics. It stays open throughout the summer, when fresh fruit is added to the table every day and reading programs are set up in the library area.
Saturdays offer an opportunity for recreational trail rides. In the summer, teen students can participate in road rides of more than 20 miles with help from the Lehigh Wheelmen Association. Each spring and fall, a Gear Up program working with Lehigh Valley Health Network and the Velodrome gives weekly cycling lessons from professional cyclists. And students recently helped build a mountain bike trail next to the East Allentown location to create a chance for mountain biking.
“The East Allentown location near the entrance to Keck Park allows near-daily bike rides,” Schaffer says. “We opened there two years ago and this has allowed us to build relationships with a whole new group of young people.”
For that reason, she places high priority on sustaining the location after the initial two-year period. All of the programs show marked outcomes for the young participants including the discipline and self-confidence needed to see a program through to the end goal, the healthy lifestyle of owning and regularly using a bike, and the tangible mechanical skills to repair bikes.
The program numbers recently show male youth comprise two-third of the participants. Therefore, this year, a first Girls’ Night for Earn a Bike brought together all women instructors and allowed girls to try out mechanics without feeling self-conscious.
Twelve-year-old Alexis, who has been visiting the East Allentown location regularly since it opened in the summer of 2016 was proud to demonstrate the skills she learned there. “My mom thought I would need help to change my tire,” she says. “But I showed her I could do it!”
The Rider-Pool Foundation was one of the earliest supporters of Community Bike Works and remained so with a grant in 2017 to keep the momentum of the flagship program growing.