“No thanks. Not interested.” That was 10-year-old Emmett’s response when his older sister tried to get him to sign up for a beginning bicycle repair class she had heard about.
Ever since he was young, Emmett liked riding his bike and seeing where it would lead him. But at that point in his young life video games were the top priority. With a little parental prodding, Emmett went to that first class with his sister, and then on to the intermediate repair class. When he wanted to sign up for the advanced repair class, his mother was actually concerned about whether he was ready for the challenge—and the home- work. But by then, Emmett was hooked. Fast-forward five years, and 15-year- old Emmett has nothing but positive things to say about Southeast Seattle’s Bike Works (the organization behind the courses). “I liked the classes because fixing bikes is really a puzzle, it’s about problem-solving . . . but you have to really study for the tests at the end!” he said with a smile.
Over the past two decades, Bike Works has become an institution in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood and surrounding communities. Founded by a group of grassroots activists in 1996, the organization is committed to increasing access to alternative transportation, investing in youth, pushing for environmental justice and fostering more sustainable communities. It has grown to serve more than 2,000 adults and youth annually. One of Bike Works’ priority initiatives is the Bicycle Recycle & Reuse program. Through its collection of thousands of used bikes, it decreases the annual waste stream by more than 170,000 pounds. Meanwhile, youth and adults in their classes and community service programs refurbish the bikes and return them to the roads as affordable, environmentally friendly transportation, or sources of fun, healthy recreational activity.
But Bike Works’ true heart lies in its programs for young people. Many start where Emmett did, signing up for the beginning Earn-A-Bike repair class. This eight-week, after-school program teaches basic hands-on mechanic skills. Participants practice on bikes that will be donated back to the community. By logging community service hours, the kids earn the opportunity to pick out and fix up a bike to take home. Emmett remembers his touring trip a few years ago in the San Juans as both peaceful and beautiful, but the moment that stands out for him was toward the end of a day when he was faced with yet another grueling hill. “I wasn’t sure if I could psyche myself up one more time to climb this big hill,” he recalls. Until one of his teammates, Ellie, rode up next to him and called out, “Emmett, you’ve got this!” It was that precise moment when he began to hear the little voice in his own head, whispering what has since become his mantra when confronted with a challenge: “Just push through it.” Emmett, however, has gone far beyond just pushing through it. Bike Works is now his second home. As the president of Bike Works’ Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) and a member of the Board of Directors, he is an organizational leader as well as a mentor for the younger cyclists. His passion is letting other kids know about what Bike Works has to offer, and when he is met with a “No thanks. Not interested,” he smiles to himself . . . and then tells them a little more.
Learn more about Bike Works at bikeworks.org.
Guest Author, Deb Salls, Bike Works Executive Director