The nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works has been around in Philadelphia for more than 18 years, helping youth learn about bicycles as well as other life skills through its Youth Bike Education & Empowerment Program.
“[We] started out in West Philly and we’ve expanded to other parts of the city, and what we do is we use bikes as the hook to engage and inspire young people,” said Erin DeCou, executive director.
Neighborhood Bike Works’s Youth Bike Education & Empowerment Program has four tiers, starting with youth ages 8-18 participating in their Earn-A-Bike program or their Ride Club program. From there, the participants can graduate to a higher level program, which can eventually lead to them getting a job or internship with Neighborhood Bike Works.
“So we start out pretty basic with youth, teaching them either basic bike mechanics through our Earn-A-Bike program or else safe-cycling skills through our ride club program, and so for both of those we work with kids age 8-18,” DeCou said.
Tier two programs continue with Neighborhood Bike Works’ Drop-In Repair Clinics, Monthly Group Rides, and Race Team (which is a partnership with Cadence Cycling Foundation. Its tier three programs include Bike Safety Checks and a Leadership & Advanced Mechanics Course. During the Leadership & Advanced Mechanics course, which was first piloted in 2013, they teach kids a little bit deeper level of mechanics skills as well as public speaking training and how to become teachers themselves.
Those who complete tier three programs have the opportunity to get a job with Neighborhood Bike Works.
“Those teenagers will actually be leading the summer camp classes, the Earn-A-Bike specifically,” said DeCou. “We also have a group that are becoming ride coaches.”
Through Philadelphia Youth Network’s Work Ready program, Neighborhood Bike Works has employed 12 youth for the summer.
“They’re split between our West Philly Site and our North Philly site, and they are either serving as assistant instructors in the camp or ride coaches,” said DeCou. “We also have an apprentice mechanic position, two of them, in our North Philly shop, and then we have two office assistant-internships for youth.”
Joshua, 14, started out at Neighborhood Bike Works in their Earn-A-Bike program after a bike shop owner directed his family to Neighborhood Bike Works when he and his three siblings needed bikes.
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“I was interested [in learning about bikes] so I wanted to continue on,” he said. Now Joshua works at Neighborhood Bike Works.
Damon, 15, another teen instructor, said that learning new things through the programs kept him coming back.
“It was always something I wanted do, fixing bikes was always fun to me, and just coming here and learning new things keeps me wanting to come back,” he said.
The participants have to apply to the jobs just like they would any other job and go through a interview process. DeCou said they had developed their job training program in an effort to provide a clear pathway for young people who are in our programs to get job readiness skills but also those first jobs to add to their resume. Neighborhood Bike Works also partnered with Penn School of Graduate Education to help the youth build resumes, cover letters, and other job-readiness skills.
“Our goal is to give them those real world job experiences but also help them learn those skills of applying to jobs, writing a resume, submitting, interviewing, all those things,” DeCou said.
Neighborhood Bike Works was also recently the recipient of an Impact100 Philadelphia grant as reported by Generocity last month. In addition, Neighborhood Bike Works announced on its website recently that it will be searching for a new location that will be “ more accessible and efficient, and will bring together all of our programs into one central hub.”
Image via Neighborhood Bike Works