Article courtesy of ChristianWeek (www.christianweek.org)
Written by Renee Joette Friesen, ChristianWeek Correspondent
WINNIPEG, MB – A bicycle-rebuilding program in Winnipeg’s inner city and North End is giving youth a chance to ride into brighter future. A group of volunteers at Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA) is helping boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 16 rebuild bicycles as part of a mentorship ministry.
Through the program, the youth work to modify donated bicycles, turning them into eight-foot-long choppers with extended forks and rear ends. In the process of building the bikes, kids learn basic mechanical techniques, such as welding, cutting and grinding, which helps them develop useful skills for the future.
Teaching basic skills is particularly beneficial for many of the boys who come from single-parent families with a long history of relying on social assistance, says ICYA executive director Kent Dueck. “Work skills are important to break that cycle of poverty.”
An equally important aspect of the program is working with the volunteers. “Many of our kids have not had a dad at all,” says Dueck. “They need a male role model.”
Dozens of kids have come through the program since it started two years ago, and more than 25 bikes have been rebuilt. Mentors spend about three months working individually with a youth to finish a bike.
“This has provided an opportunity for young people in the North End. It helps them build confidence that they can do mechanical things. It changes their perspective on who they are and it changes their perspective about the future,” says Ivan Blakney, program director. He adds that some youth come out of the program with plans to further develop their skills and apply them to a career.
While most of the bikes are donated, Inner City Youth Alive does purchase other materials including wires, metal tubing, wheels and bicycle cranks. A wide variety of creative designs results from recycled materials. In the past year, one of the youth received first prize for creativity at the World of Wheels.
The chopper club has really taken off in the past year. More than five youth are currently participating in the program. Sometimes previous participants come back to build a second bike or to assist newcomers with their projects.
“Bikes are the magnet that draw the kids in, but the purpose is to help them develop practical skills and get the youth working one-on-one with a role model. We want to connect them in a male-to-male mentoring role. But it’s also to help them discover who God is,” Dueck says. Each week, after working on the bikes, the group engages in an informal conversation about God over snacks.
“It’s a communal thing. Some of the kids don’t have that at home,” Dueck explains. “It’s been a very successful program in terms of the kids’ attraction to the program.”
Inner City Youth Alive is always looking for volunteers to assist with the program by serving as role models. For more information, click to contact ICYA.