As you think back on your own childhood, what stands out as the symbol of freedom and independence? For many kids both past and present, it is the bicycle, with its ability to carry you away from home at great speeds, that represents this absence of limits. Yet, as the prices of bicycles and the accompanying safety equipment, like helmets, have soared, the number of children who can enjoy the freedom that a bicycle offers has dwindled. And so during May, which is National Bike Month, organizations like Bicycle Works in St. Louis, Missouri, are striving to ensure that bicycles are available to any children who want them year round.
Established in the Shaw Neighborhood, an area of St. Louis where approximately 26% of the residents "live at or below the Federal poverty line," Bicycle Works offers school-age kids an opportunity to earn any bicycle and helmet in their shop by completing a series of Saturday classes about bicycle maintenance and safety ("Students and the City"). Not only that, but kids who have completed the basic classes and received their bicycles can also work towards special equipment and accessories for their bikes by assisting the newcomers to the program, thereby transforming the older students into mentors and community leaders. As Mark Allen, a five-year veteran of running the bicycle shop, says, the program "gets kids to be responsible for something" and provides "an alternative to hanging out on the streets." Allen also states that, on average, "30 to 500" kids earn bikes each year, but the number of bicycles earned does not depend solely on the level of interest displayed by the local kids. Like most non-profit organizations, Bicycle Works relies on donations from the community, not only of equipment and funds, but also of time. While the organization normally has 5 to 6 adult volunteers, both from the Shaw Neighborhood and from the Micah House Program, a social justice group at nearby Saint Louis University, Allen emphasizes that additional volunteers are always needed.
Bicycle Works is certainly a local endeavor, but similar programs for kids exist all across the country, like the Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia and the "Earn-a-Bike/Job Training Program" in Trips for Kids Marin, the California model for the 32 local chapters of Trips for Kids National. As the Trips for Kids National website states, the children that they work with come from a wide variety of backgrounds. "But these kids have one thing in common. They are kids and kids love bikes. There is a sense of freedom on a bicycle. It's a vehicle for exploring new environments" ("Trips"), and organizations such as these help to make that vehicle available to every child who wants it. For more information about any of these programs check their websites:
Bicycle Works in St. Louis, MO http://stlouis.missouri.org/501c/bworks/right.html
Sources:Allen, Mark. Telephone interview. 4 April 2005. "Students and the City." Micah House Program at Saint Louis University. 4 April 2005.http://www.slu.edu/outreach/micah/aboutbookgr.htm
"Trips for Kids National" Trips for Kids National. 4 April 2005. http://www.tripsforkids.org/TFKNATIONAL/index.htm
Copyright 2005© Ramona Caponegro
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