A bicycle can give a child freedom, independence and a sense of empowerment.
At Open Roads Bike Program, participants get all of that and more as they acquire the tools to navigate both their neighborhoods and their lives.
“When we can help them earn a bike and lock, they’re like, ‘Whoa, game changer,’” said Erin Denay, Executive Director at Open Roads since 2014. “Just building skills in general is so empowering.”
The organization, founded in 2009 by Ethan Alexander, is a youth development bike program with a mission to help youth earn bikes and prepare for their futures by teaching bike mechanic, social and emotional skills. In September, Open Roads was featured at a United Way Pop Up Giving event, and earned enough votes to take home $1,520 to use toward Earn-A-Bike Scholarships.
Earn-A-Bike is a six-week program generally serving 10 students at a time who meet once a week for a two-hour lesson taught by mechanical and social skills instructors. The lessons are meant to give students hands-on mechanic skills while learning how to better navigate life at home, in school and in the community.
“We really try to connect the bike skill to the social skill,” Denay said.
For example, on the day they learn about brakes, students might also get a lesson and have a discussion about self control. At the end of the program, each student receives a bicycle, helmet, lock, T-shirt, certificate and book. At a cost of roughly $150 per student, the Pop Up Giving funds will cover a full program cycle for a group of 10. Denay estimates that between 90 and 100 kids go through Earn-A-Bike each year.
In addition to that program, Open Roads also organizes community bike rides and runs a pop-up bike repair workshop for youth 18 and younger called The Fix.
Denay emphasized that rather than try to define success for participants, Open Roads staff and volunteers make it a point to offer the opportunities and let the youth decide what they want to get out of it.
“I love the mobility that our programs give kids in the sense of independence and self-sufficiency they gain,” she said. “And I really value the space we provide for kids to discover who they are and who they want to be.”
Interested in volunteering with Open Roads? There are several ways to get involved, including a drop-in volunteer session from 4:30-7 p.m. on Nov. 14 at 1523 Riverview Drive. Visit openroadsbike.org for more volunteer opportunities.
Our next Pop Up Giving event is set for Nov. 13 at Wax Wings Brewing Co. on Gull Road in Kalamazoo. Registration is now open.