Bike shop puts neighborhood teens to work

July 4, 2009 9:29:22 AM PDT
West Town Bikes in Chicago's Humboldt Park community is putting some neighborhood teenagers to work. They are learning the tools of the trade on how to repair and maintain bicycles. And some are taking away life lessons that go beyond mechanic work.

There is more to fixing a bicycle than adjusting the chain or inflating a tire. It's a life experience for these interns at West Town Bikes on West Division. Alex Wilson is executive director.

"It started off as a single summer, youth earn-a-bike program. In the last five years we grew out of that single summer program into our own 501C3 not-for-profit. Last year offered 18 programs that served over 600 children," said Wilson.

Humboldt Park-area kids coming into program learned bike repair and became owners of the bikes they worked on. Gregorio Lozada was one of them and is now a bike mechanic employed here.

"My mind is set to put things together, take 'em apart, so I can sit here and take this bike apart and I can put it back together. It's easy for me," said Lozada.

A program participant, Jose Rivera is also employed as a bike mechanic. He stresses biking as a healthy activity.

"You don't really think it's beneficial because it's fun, but you're also helping yourself out and letting other people see that they can do something that's fun for themselves," said Rivera.

"Being a program that encourages people to be more active is wonderful. And another thing we do, we help Chicagoans see our teenagers as an asset as opposed to a liability," said Sarah Miller, assistant director.

"It's very humbling to be able to work with so many of these kids who have really very limited resources themselves and to be able to provide them with something as simple as a bike and see them grow as they learn about these bicycles, build, see opportunities come out of that experience," said Wilson.

The folks at West Town Bikes, some bicycle enthusiasts you should know.

And to learn more about the bike shop and the rally on July 11, visit westtownbikes.org.


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