Scott: The streets of Chicago’s south side can be a hard place to grow up. But for these area youth, Blackstone Works bike shop offers a different course to ride down. Young people ages 9-16 work together to learn the skills of bicycle repair and maintenance.
What is even cooler, they can earn a free bike once the put in a certain amount of hours of work. The shop helped about 180 neighborhood kids last year, and youth program manager Aaron Swanton says for many it is their first bike ever.
Aaron Swanton: Seeing a child or youth earn a bike for the first time, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Scott: Swanton, the son of a pastor, started as a volunteer at the shop and has been working there for over four years. He says the work the students put in is well worth it.
Swanton: I think that element of work, you know, it’s really good hard work. There’s a lot of fulfillment you get out of learning how to fix a bicycle.
Scott: Besides the bikes, young peoople here seem to get a lot out of it too and following in his mentor Swanton’s footsteps, Kevin Applewhite not only connected with the work of the bike shop but also the people and he says he is better for it.
Kevin Applewhite: You learn how to be, I guess, all together a better person because you learn how to be around other people.
Scott: And through Blackstone, Kevin gained more than just a skillset.
Kevin: I didn’t think I was going to live to see 18. I didn’t think I was going to live to graduate out of high school. Being at the shop changed all that. Like, they helped me realize that I could do something with my life.
Scott: He started here when he was 13 and now at age 19 plays a role similar to the one he once depended on.
Kevin: …And there are kids who can’t even walk home from the bike shop because they are crossing other gang territories. So, the guys from the shop have to help them to get home.
Scott: With the skills Kevin picked up working at the bike shop, he not only landed a job there as a youth apprentice, but also at the University of Chicago in their bike rental shop. An achievement he is very proud of.
Kevin: It feels very good to have something else to do besides being in the streets.
Scott: The bike shop, that runs mostly based on private donations, also has year-round tutoring progams and helps with homework after school in a safe environment. And during the summer, it extends its hours and even provides breakfast and lunch — all free to families. So, what do area kids say about their new earned bikes?
“It feels like I can go on forever and ever and ever…”
Scott: It is the hope that with positive role models like these and the constructive experiences they provide, the ride for them will be a little easier.
Scott Evans, Channel One News.