Earn-A-Bike and Green Cyclers program teaches bike mechanics to youth
On a cold winter night, 11 children gathered in a warm shed to attend their first day at the Earn-A-Bike and Green Cyclers program with the non-profit organization Two Wheel View.
The weekly program is a free two-hour, drop-in session for youth.
"(Children) come to learn how to fix bikes, work on bikes, work together as a group and have fun," said Rick McFerrin, founder of the organization.
While the program is available to all youth, Two Wheel View's mission is to help young people who wouldn't normally have the opportunity to travel or own a bike, McFerrin said.
As an incentive for participation in the program, "the youth are given a free bicycle, bike helmet and lock at the end of the session," said Laura Istead, volunteer co-ordinator for Two Wheel View.
For Gloria Black Plume, 11, earning a bike was one of her incentives to participate.
"I had a bike, but someone stole it," she said. "So I plan to earn a bike of my own."
Two Wheel View started from a humble beginning in Minneapolis, Minn., when McFerrin had five to 10 donated bikes, and kids would meet at his garage for bike rides.
After moving to Calgary in 2005, the organization began to develop more programs for youth, including the Earn-A-Bike program.
Although a Calgary winter does not offer ideal cycling conditions, it didn't seem to matter to the children. All of the participants listened intently to the instructions on how to change a bicycle tire.
Kaya Williams, 10, said she joined the program to "learn how to fix bikes — especially how to fix my rusted bike."
"I am excited about joining the bike club during the summer to go cycling anywhere," she added.
But, the program isn't just about earning bikes. It's about trying to change the lives of young people in Calgary.
Jonny Barrett, a team leader with Two Wheel View, works directly with the youth on a regular basis and said he sees firsthand how they change.
"(With the) Earn-A-Bike program, it seems like you almost get to see that immediate gratification that often in youth work you don't get a chance to see," he said.
"For example, a (shy) kid is a whole different person in a group and two weeks later he is talking in front of a group and is actually able to express himself.
"So for that, I've seen it hugely effective, hugely empowering and really awesome."
Barrett also said the bikes are a handy tool to help build a community of powerful kids.
McFerrin added: "Every day I think there is a success story. I look around (my office), and there are different pictures and quotes from young people who are involved in the program.
"I know that if I am just changing one kid's life, that's enough for me."
For more information about Two Wheel View visit www.twowheelview.org
- By CORINNE SATO