One day as Reyes Juarez was walking through his neighborhood near South Federal Boulevard and Jewel Avenue, he wandered into a bike shop called Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery. The store manager, Tom Hall, asked Juarez and his friends if they”d like to join the store’s Earn-a-Bike program: a free 12-week course in which kids learn basic bicycle maintenance skills and earn a bike of their own.
“We all said yes, and I was the only one to stay in the program from start to finish,” Juarez remembers. After completing the program and earning a bike, helmet, lock and tool kit, program volunteers took Juarez and other students on a group ride to Bear Creek Lake Park. Juarez’s strong commitment to cycling stood out quickly, and the bike shop staff encouraged him to apply for a paid summer job at Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery as part of their Youth-at-Work program.
Now a 10th-grade student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, Juarez still works part-time at the bike shop helping customers and volunteering for bike-related events. He plans to become a car mechanic. “I always liked working with my hands on cars or bikes,” Juarez says. “Through (the program), I learned to help people in need and help my community.”
The Earn-a-Bike and Ride and Youth-at-Work programs are all community efforts led by the nonprofit organization Trips For Kids Denver Metro (TFKDM). Their mission is to build healthy, confident kids by connecting disadvantaged youth to cycling. “We use the bike as a tool to teach respect for one another, patience and structure,” says Wendy Stewart, executive director of Trips For Kids Denver Metro, noting that these life skills are often not being modeled to the students they serve.
TFKDM takes children age 10 and up on day-long mountain bike rides and after-school outings to a wide variety of locations. Many participating youth learn about them through partners such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Colorado Uplift, SOS Outreach and Urban Peak. Trips are led by experienced cyclists who teach kids basic mountain biking skills, expose them to nature and encourage an active lifestyle.
For their Youth-at-Work paid summer jobs, “we hand select (students) that show up all the time, enjoy being here and that we can count on,” Stewart says. Before starting their jobs, adults help students with a resume? and put them through an interview process, as another way to prepare for their future.
Stewart recalls one boy who started coming to the bike shop about four years ago. He’s now a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines and wants to become a bike engineer. “He started volunteering at the shop, earned a bike, was selected as a youth intern and we gave him the opportunity to be a manager,” Stewart remembers. “He ran with it. He was such a sharp young man and he just kept showing up.”
How Families Can Help: Currently, TFKDM is most in need of ride assistants for group rides and bike events. Adults with mechanical aptitude can volunteer at Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery. Kids ages 12-14 can sometimes volunteer with their parents. Students age 14 and up can volunteer by entering the organization’s youth-run programs without parents.