“I'd like to make a donation, please let me know what you're in need of! I'd love to help out,” read a message on the Earn-A-Bike Co-op Facebook page. I was timid and unaccustomed to asking people for help.
“Thank you for reaching out and for your willingness to help," I replied. "At this point we need more bike stands and tools, we are getting more kids and we would like them to have their station. In our letter to Santa Claus is a 20-foot container to store the bikes, if you know of someone who would be happy to let us have it please let us know. Thank you again."
Barbara Piña, living in Austin at the time, said she'd look into it and be in touch.
“So this container - is like a cargo container right?” replied Barbara.
We flipped out. It was exactly what we needed.
My partner Aracely Garcia-Granados and I had spent two years trying to get the co-op off the ground and had invested substantial resources in our Westside location. It felt like we were going at it alone. The West Side Development Corporation had pledged funds to help us employ one staff person, but the funds never materialized. Without someone standing watch, the bikes were at risk and a container was the only option that would guarantee the safety of the bikes. The going rate of a container this size is $2-3,000, more than we could afford.
Barbara’s pledge gave us that breath of fresh air that Aracely and I desperately needed. Things began to turn around.
Exited about the news, I headed to Golds Gym downtown for a noon workout. I ran into Jeff in the locker room, a guy I had met at a gala dinner and then saw on occasion. I told him about the co-op, and he offered to make some calls.
That same week we were holding our first BScuela session, a community bike maintenance class. Seven people attended that first session. As I showed them how to fix a flat, Ursula Pari of KSAT-TV Channel 12 walked in. She had heard about the event from a friend of hers and decided it would make a good story. Jeff Coyle, I asked? Yes, she replied. Jeff had made a few calls after our chat at Golds Gym. KSAT-TV followed up and a series of articles were published including a full feature on the Rivard Report.
By late October we were experimenting with a couple of programs. Betsy Farris, a supporter and board member, had taken on the daunting task of creating the first Women’s Wrench Night, where we invited women to learn about bicycle mechanics at The Luxury. BScuela courses were almost over and Aracely and I felt we needed to do something for kids.
We had heard from Raquel Rivera, the pantry director at the Cassiano Home's Jireh House, who had been trying to collect bikes for the kids. She came to the co-op with a few kids from the San Antonio Housing Authority project and invited me to come over. She had bikes in storage and wanted to see if I could fix them. Six used bikes were stored in the second floor of the unit they had worked hard to get for the Jireh House. Some could be fixed, others couldn’t. That visual stuck with me for several months.
"We have to go back," I told Aracely.
We met with Cindi Snell at Bike World and asked her if she could help us get a good deal from Trek. We wanted to bring the Earn-A-Bike program to the Cassiano Homes. Cindi has been a supporter of the co-op since its inception. After only a couple of rides together, she made a substantial donation of degreasers and cleaners; she's always there when we need bike stands or tools.
$6,000 for 40 bikes and $1,500 for locks, tools, helmets and execution needed to be raised for the Earn-A-Bike Christmas program. It was close to the end of the year and we knew it was a hard goal to achieve in such a short time. Lyssa Ochoa, connected us to folks at the American Diabetes Association for a potential partnership with the Tour de Cure. I explained the program, our need for help.
Without hesitation, she said, "We will raise $7,500.”
So we started the campaign.
Snell offered up Bike World to host a fundraiser, Metropolitan Health District Director Dr. Thomas Schlenker called in to offer his support with grant money, District 1 Councilmember Robert Treviño made a significant donation, and all the way from her new home in Seattle, Barbara send me another message, “A check is on the way and let me know if you need more.”
Jeff made a couple more calls, Robert Rivard wrote an article, Rachel Chaney – mother of Carter and an amazing photographer – offered to take pictures, Rebecca and Brian from the Third Street Grackles cycling team rallied the flock: Eric, Alfonso, Elaine, Janine, John Allison, Johnny, Mathew and Morgan, Steven Lea, R.R. Lemke, Cheryl, Steven B, Gildelbrand, the Tolers, Elena, Julie and Damon, Aracely, Jose, Donald, Rosemarie, Nelda, Thomas, Eileen and Daniel, Hope Andrade and all the way from D.C., Congressman Henry Bonilla sent a contribution.
In all we raised $7,760: $6,500 for 40 bikes, $200 for locks, $160 for tools. We saved a lot by not having to purchase helmets that were instead donated by the City's Office of Sustainability. Some of the remaining money was donated to the Jireh House and the rest will support the neighborhood rides.
To all who volunteered for building, mentoring, guiding, feeding the kids, stopping traffic, picking up trash, writing stories: Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thanks to Flo and his magic weedwacker, Betsy and her crew of wrenching friends, the UTSA gang capable of knocking out 10 bikes in one afternoon, Santiago and the St. Mary's Hall posse, Devona, Clement and Henry for valiantly jumping in to teach the John Bosco Boys Scout troop when my meetings ran long, Alvaro for staying up late while we waited for David to be picked up, David for keeping everything in place, and Aracely for being a Scorpio.
Thank you for believing that a bicycle can change the life of child – if they earn it.
We have big plans for Earn-A-Bike. To run all these programs EAB is budgeting $250,000 for 2015 that includes two new locations and the staff to manage them and additional programming.
Guadalupe Street Earn-A-Bike
In 2015 we are keeping in touch with the Cassiano Home kids with organized rides leading up to the American Diabetes Association's Tour De Cure ride in May. In partnership with Metro Health, each month EAB will teach the kids about nutrition, the value of staying active, and maintaining their bicycles. To cover the $150 fee we will reach out to San Antonio families and ask them to sponsor a child. The child will ride for the family and families that don't or can't ride, but want to support the ADA through a child. This program will provide us with the metrics needed to prove the impact that a bicycle can have on a child's life.
Throughout the process, Earn-A-Bike Coop will start involving the parents of the participants and making them part of the co-op. Our goal for 2016 is to have parents from the community take leadership roles at the co-op.
Haven for Hope
In January we will start a pilot program with Haven from Hope where Earn-A-Bike will visit once a week to teach basic bicycle repair and maintenance. Our first two sessions will focus on wheels and tires, a common issue amongst all cyclists. The pilot will measure participation in hopes that Earn-A-Bike becomes a permanent program at Haven for Hope.
During the summer of 2015 we will be having a kids Earn-A-Bike Summer Camp, where we will teach kids basic and intermediate bicycle mechanics during a four-week summer session. The Camp will offer scholarships to children in the community and work-trade opportunities for parents.
Earn-A-Bike Christmas Cassiano 2015
Next December our goal is to increase expand the Earn-A-Bike Christmas program. Our goal is 40 children at three different SAHA Properties.
Expanding to San Antonio’s South and East Side
For Earn-A-Bike Coop as organization, our goal is to expand the program across San Antonio. To replicate the model running on the Westside, we are exploring a site near Hackberry and Iowa streets on the Eastside, one closer to Rackspace, and locations in the Southside.
We are looking into building a mobile bike shop that would travel to areas in need, such as Haven for Hope, and implement classes and programs.
In 2014 EAB started conversations with UTSA students to start a co-op at UTSA to serve the student population. EAB expects to have a bike co-op up and running at UTSA by the 2015-2016 school year.
*Featured/top image: A child learns about adjusting tires during a Earn-A-Bike BScuela session. Photo by Rachel Chaney.