Aug 07, 2017

Two wheels lead inner city kids on a path of discovery and opportunity.

A community bicycling program helps kids develop skills and build confidence in a safe, fun environment.

For many kids a bike means freedom – transportation to the pool on a hot day or to a friend’s house to shoot some hoops. But for the inner city kids who participate in Community Bike Works’ Earn a Bike program, those two-wheels are also a vehicle that unlocks valuable life skills and lessons.

Founded in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1995, Community Bike Works is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the lives of kids from low-income areas through the fixing and riding of bicycles. Its flagship program, Earn a Bike, provides 9 to 18 year olds with a free second-hand bike. Over the course of 12 weeks, students work with Community Bike Works staff to repair and refurbish their bikes. While kids are learning how to fix a flat and replace brakes, they’re also learning how to communicate, work as a team and persevere through challenges.

After completing the 12-week session, participants not only get to keep their bike, but they also get a free helmet. Over its 21-year history, the program has provided 4,000 kids with bikes. Many of the kids keep coming back, too.

“Kids tell us how much it means to them to have a place to go after school,” says Community Bike Works director Kim Schaffer. “Lots of kids talk about Community Bike Works as their second home or second family. Our goal is to create a welcoming environment where they can try things and make mistakes, and we work through things together in a safe and comfortable environment.”

The program has been so successful, organizers have expanded it to also include an Earn a Book program (to encourage reading) and Earn a Bike Junior (providing 7 and 8 year olds an opportunity to learn about bikes). Originally an after-school program, Community Bike Works now operates year-round, giving kids a place to go and activities to do during the summer months.

By the numbers 380 students participated in Earn a Bike and Earn a Kike Junior in 2015-16. 7,500 number of visits students made to Community Bike Works in 2015-16. 79% Percentage of participants whose families are at or below half of the area's median income. 86% Percentage of students who earned their bikes in 2015-16. 15,200 number of hours students spent with mentors in 2015-16. 62% percentage of participants who live in single-parent households.Beyond also gaining exposure to various types of cycling. Members of Community Bike Works participate in racing programs at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center (a nationally renowned bike racing facility) as well as weekly long-distance road rides and monthly mountain-biking excursions.

“I learned to be more relaxed since I’ve started road riding with Bike Works,” says Trey, 15, who has completed Earn a Bike several times and participates in the program’s long-distance riding program. “When you are riding 20 miles or more, you are in that right mindset—you are calmer and don’t worry about things so much. It’s good that Bike Works is here for kids. We have opportunities we wouldn’t have, and it’s a good way to get kids out of the house and on their bikes.”

Schaffer wanted to reach more kids, especially those who she felt had a particular need for the programming, so in 2016 Community Bike Works opened a second location on the city’s east side. “East Allentown is a neighborhood where the poverty and unemployment levels are higher than average,” she said. “There aren’t as many services there as there are in other parts of the city. We saw a need there.”

Expanding the organization was no small feat. But a partnership with Moser Village Family Center, a social service agency on Allentown’s east side, now provides the nonprofit facility space.

In addition to that, Schafer received a $25,000 major grant from the PPL Foundation to help develop the program’s east-side branch.

To find out more about Community Bike Works, visit: http://www.communitybikeworks.org