Cycles for Change can reframe a youth’s outlook on employment and community leadership using an everyday object: The bicycle.
Their youth apprenticeship program teaches young people the ins and outs of running a bike repair store. Youth learn how to build, repair and maintain bicycles while working in Cycle for Change’s community bike shops.
The organization specifically employs young people from low to moderate-income families. 95 percent of young employees are youth of color. ”Cycles for Change places an emphasis on hiring these youth because they are the most disadvantaged when it comes to finding jobs and having employment opportunities,” said Jason Tanzman, executive director.
Support from F. R. Bigelow Foundation helped Cycles for Change double the number youth it could employ, growing from 10 to 20. In addition to employing and training youth, Cycles for Change engages youth in dialogue about how communities and cities are built and structured, the role transportation plays in shaping a city and other concepts that encourage critical thinking and elevate youth as leaders and advocates in their community.
“For many youth, this is their first job experience. While we want them to learn skills they can turn into a career, we also engage them in all aspects of our program. They get to give input and shape the program and projects we do. We want them to learn to envision solutions for their community and see how they can have a positive impact,” said Tanzman.
Empowering youth as experts also breaks down community stereotypes and builds self-confidence and self-reliance among young employees.
“When people come to our shop for bike repairs, they are always blown away by how knowledgeable the youth are. They know how to fix your bike and how to fix it correctly every time. Getting that sort of feedback is very powerful for youth,” said Stephanie Schultz, AmeriCorps VISTA member with Cycles for Change.
Combining real-world employment skills with leadership opportunities, Cycles for Change is moving beyond its mission to build and empower a diverse community of bicyclists; it’s building and empowering a diverse new generation of community leaders.