Arts & Entertainment

Nonprofit creates a biker-friendly future with Philadelphia’s youth

Neighborhood Bike Works aims to make Philly more bike-literate.

Neighborhood Bike Works is a nonprofit focused on pedaling students further in a different way.

The organization, started in 1999, encourages biking as an affordable, environmentally friendly and healthy method of transportation. The organization has two locations – its headquarters on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus and a North Philadelphia location at 1426 W. Susquehanna Ave.

Both stores hold many weekly and monthly programs, such as adult bike repair classes, but the organization’s main focus is educating the youth of Philadelphia on cycling, especially the ones who can’t afford bikes or proper training.

Mustafa Abdul-Rashid, the youth program coordinator of NBW, teaches Earn-A-Bike classes at the North Philly bike shop on Mondays and Wednesdays. His full-time job involves developing youth programs and working with a program director to continually improve the classes.

“I’m really more into the kids learning social skills and problem solving,” Abdul-Rashid said. “A lot of our programs are designed where it combines a lot of different skills that you may not notice, but use every day.”

Earn-A-Bike is one of three entry-level programs offered to children ages eight to 18, which offers both mechanical training and a chance to earn a free bike. Through 15 two-hour afterschool sessions spread throughout eight weeks, kids learn how to repair and maintain a bike as well as earn credits, or hours, through participation to eventually graduate and take home a bike of their own.

Abdul-Rashid said Earn-A-Bike motivates kids to learn basic bike repair with a “little reward factor.”

“You don’t get a bike for free,” Abdul-Rashid said. “Everybody that comes in must learn something.”

Ride Club, a four-week program, teaches kids how to ride safely on busy streets. This involves teaching proper hand signals, what to wear to make themselves visible and how to deal with dangerous drivers.

Being a nonprofit organization, NBW gets help from the many volunteers who come to help on a consistent basis, including students from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple. Abdul-Rashid got his start in the organization when he was in high school as a youth assistant in 2002.

Charlie Alcorn, 23, started volunteering at classes such as Earn-A-Bike around February of this year. With an interest in teaching, he got in touch with a volunteer coordinator to get started helping. Now, he said,  is his “teaching time.”

“It’s a lot of fun … because it’s not like a formal classroom setting,” Alcorn said.  “It’s this space where everything’s hands-on and being after school, the kids are more energetic.”

NBW also takes donations from the community in the form of used bikes, parts and accessories. It also accepts clothes that help with the hot and cold weathers that participants ride in during the monthly group rides.

The next group ride is the Major Taylor Bike Ride on Nov. 30 near the Mann Center, which recognizes Major Taylor, a record-breaking African-American cyclist during the late 1800s to early 1900s. With games and youth awards planned, NBW aims to provide a place that suits all kids.

“We create different outlets … and [it’s] where kids can be creative and learn with their hands,” Abdul-Rashid said.

NBW has also partnered with its neighbor Tree House Books, a nonprofit with an aim to help kids read with afterschool programs. All this effort toward creating opportunities for youth to take part in something is why Abdul-Rashid does what he does.

“The impact we try to have is to put kids on bikes, give them choices, let them be independent and teach them some skills and safe riding methods,” Abdul-Rashid said. “If a person is active and learning and trying to do something positive, I’m not turning them away – we’re encouraging them, trying to embrace it.”

If you are interested in learning more about Neighborhood Bike Works, they will be presenting at the upcoming Fulfill: A Micro-Granting Meal at Temple Contemporary on Thursday, Nov.14.

 Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu.

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