A group of young women from the Martinez Street Women's Center participate in the Earn-A-Bike program. (left to right): Esmeralda (12), Ellie (11), Ashlynn (12), Samantha (11), and Macayla (9). Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A group of girls at Martinez St. Women’s Center intently watched Earn-A-Bike Co-op President Cristian Sandoval with wide eyes as he demonstrated how to change a bicycle tire using the correct tools. One could almost see the cogs turning in each of their heads.

For the next eight weeks, the girls at Martinez St. Women’s Center, a program that caters to at-risk young women, will learn week-by-week, step-by-step, how to maintain and care for a bicycle. Those in charge of the eight-week long workshop, called She Cycle, will begin by teaching the girls the basics, like choosing the right tools to fix a flat, to covering more complex topics such as derailleur adjustments. At the end of the eight weeks, 14 girls will go home with a bicycle. A bicycle constructed with a little labor of love.

Cristian Sandoval teaches the girls how to adjust a bicycle seat post. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Earn-A-Bike Co-op installed two bike maintenance work stations inside of the Martinez St. Women’s Center, a stone building in Lockwood Park on the City’s Eastside, for the girls to use during the next eight weeks and beyond.

Sandoval taught the class on Tuesday, but soon two high school-aged young women will take over. Their job is to train some of the girls to become future teachers, a trend that hopefully continues down the line through the years.

“Our goal is for these girls to broaden their opportunities as they go to college and need to start working,” Sandoval said. “Now they can work at a bike shop, surrounded by really cool people.”

Cristian Sandoval speaks to the children. Photo by Scott Ball.

Sandoval went around the room and asked the girls to raise their hand if they owned a bike. More than half of the girls raised their hand. Then Sandoval asked the girls to raise their hand if their bicycle wasn’t rideable because of a flat tire or another problem. Most raised their hand again. When Sandoval asked the girls why their bicycles weren’t fixed, one of the girls replied that her parents were busy, and most of the other girls agreed.

Sandoval and those at Martinez St. Women’s Center are giving the girls the necessary skills to fix and maintain their own bicycles. That way, the girls won’t have to wait for their parents to come home from work to either fix their bicycle for them or take the bike to a shop to have it fixed, which would involve even more time and precious resources. Instead, the girls are empowering themselves and learning how to fix a bicycle on their own.

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It seems simple. A girl learns how to fix a bike. But she’s also learning that she can perform the same tasks as a boy, and this could transcend to other facets of her life, like choosing what she studies in college. Maybe she’ll realize that she likes working with her hands to piece things together and decide to become an engineer – a field dominated by men.

Monica Sosa, a Martinez Street Women’s Center educator, said the workshop is providing the girls an opportunity to learn skills that they might have otherwise never received.

“If they want to use these tools to fix something at home, they know that they have the skills to fix or work toward anything that they want,” Sosa said. “It’s not just encouraging them and empowering them to dive into things that they usually wouldn’t, but it’s also giving them future skills.”

Monica Sosa stands with a bicycle. Photo by Scott Ball.

The workshop is playing another vital role in these girls’ lives. Sandoval and those at Martinez St. Women’s Center are teaching these girls how to live and enjoy healthy lifestyles.

Vascular Surgeon Dr. Lyssa Ochoa, who funded the She Cycle program, said San Antonio has twice the number of diabetics of any other large city in the nation.

Dr. Lyssa Ochoa speaks to the children at the Martinez Street Women’s Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

“When you look at what the treatment of diabetes is … a healthy diet and exercise, it really is that simple,” she said. “The biggest correlate to having diabetes is obesity and the fastest growing rate of childhood obesity in San Antonio is in our eight to 10-year-old children.”

Ochoa said exercise doesn’t have to be painful – it should be enjoyable.

“How else to inspire someone to take control of their life to be healthy than to give them something that is fun and inspiring?” she said. “What I love about the concept of Earn-A-Bike is that these kids learn a skill that you and I don’t have – I don’t now how to build a bike – but they also find self-respect and dignity.”

These kids aren’t given something, they earn it, Ochoa said.

*Featured/top image: A group of young women from the Martinez Street Women’s Center (left to right) Esmeralda (12), Ellie (11), Ashlynn (12), Samantha (11), and Macayla (9). Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....

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