- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - For high school sophomore Emelia Gliege, the promise of freedom starts with a donated bike in the Freewheelin’ Community Bikes workshop. The seat needs adjusting, the bike chain may need oiling, and upon a second evaluation, the handlebar appears to be crooked. But it’s a start.

Emelia, a sophomore at Herron High School, leans over the frame of her bike, a black Trek 830 mountain model she chose from racks lining the wall. She rotates the pedal forward. Pauses. Then dabs lubricant along the bike chain.

“So the chain doesn’t get stuck,” she explains.

By the end of the eight-week Earn-a-Bike program, kids ages 10-18 are owners of newly repaired bikes, courtesy of the mechanic skills they learned along the way.

Emelia says she wants to use her bike for the 30-minute commute to school. Now she’s using her mom’s bike from the ‘80s, and she’s not crazy about it, especially when the shifters get stuck.

“I’m hoping to learn to fix up my own bike,” Emelia says, referring to the Trek. “Then I can use the skills to fix up the bike for my mom.”

The bike, helmet and lock they earn are just the tangible parts of Earn-a-Bike, a program that served 157 youth last year.

“It’s a program where kids come in and they’re learning life skills like patience and problem solving and just talking to others,” says Andrew Korb, program director at Freewheelin’.

Each session begins by sharing the best and worst parts of each person’s week. Sometimes kids discover they’re struggling through the same class or maybe they play the same video game.

“Through all that talk and conversation and getting to know each other, they start to come out of their shell, and they start to build relationships,” Korb says.

After completing the Earn-a-Bike curriculum, youth can continue refining knowledge during Open Shop hours, advancing through colored aprons similar to how martial arts use different colors of belts to show students’ progress.

The final black apron indicates the wearer is able to assemble a bicycle from its frame and the parts. They are also qualified for the Youth Employment Apprenticeship Program, where youth ages 14-22 gain job training by working for the Freewheelin’ retail bike shop, 3355 N. Central Ave. One former apprentice is now a full-time employee.

The shop sells new and refurbished bikes in addition to cycling accessories and parts. In return, the proceeds help boost the sustainability of Freewheelin’.

“The shop provides an opportunity to serve as a learning lab,” says Alison Cole, interim executive director at Freewheelin’. “Our apprentices help to grow that. It’s a place for young people to learn how to operate in retail and service.”

David Russell, 12, isn’t ready for an apprenticeship, still maneuvering his rag and trying to find the right grip in order to clean his bike chain. David says he plans to ride his bike to the park with his parents and brother.

For now, the bike remains stationary. Warm weather is weeks away but the problem at hand is a clogged bike chain that won’t move. Achebe Lateef, one of the instructors, looks over Russell’s shoulder.

Freewheelin’ tries to keep a 1-to-2 ratio of mentors to participants, and Lateef was one of the first staff members hired in 2007. He told Freewheelin’ founder Nancy Stimson he could only help a few times a week. A few times a week turned into every day.

This was when the bike workshop was just a room inside Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. But they were a growing organization, and in 2011 Freewheelin’ moved across the street to the intersection of Central Avenue and East 34th Street.

Now Lateef is instructing David to rotate the pedal 60 more times in order to clean any gunk.

“Don’t choke the chain,” Lateef says, and David’s firm grip loosens as the chain began to glide more easily in his hand.

“It’s like school, but it’s not school,” Lateef says. “You can learn at your own rate. Seeing young people say, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it!’ And the lightbulb goes off.”

The afternoon wraps up with a worksheet. Part of it is devoted to testing bicycle mechanics, but another portion has questions like, “What did you learn about someone else?” or “What did you learn about leadership?”

Lateef grips David’s hand before leaving.

“Did you master the touch?” Lateef asks, gesturing at David’s bike chain. The pedal, chain, and coordinating parts moves fluidly, and David nods.

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Source: The Indianapolis Star

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com


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