By Tashi Copeland
Near the corner of Fairfield and Central Avenue in Indianapolis, you’ll see a building adorned with a bright yellow sign and free-styled letters with three words—Freewheelin’ Community Bikes. As you enter the shop, you’ll find yourself encased with an assortment of bikes, greeted by an enthusiastic staff. But what you’ll also find beneath the array of tires and tools is both a safe haven and fountain of opportunity for our youth.
Freewheelin’ Community Bikes has been an asset to the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood since 2009. While it offers both experienced cyclists and novice bikers a variety of bikes to purchase and high-quality service for repairs and maintenance, the organization also invests in young people. Freewheelin’ has a mission to connect youth with skills for life over a shared passion for the bicycle to build a stronger, healthier, more connected city. One of the ways the organization does this is through its Youth Education and Employment Training (YEET) program.
The YEET program supports youth with education, recreation, and employment. This year-round paid apprenticeship for youth aged 14 -18 is designed to prepare them for future jobs—and most importantly, build their confidence and connection to their community. Participants learn retail business operations, management skills, mentoring, and complex bicycle mechanic skills using structured learning modules. Modules include customer service training using a bicycle-focused curriculum called GEAR, an entrepreneurial training course, and four increasingly complicated bicycle mechanical skills training courses.
Freewheelin’ was recently awarded a $60,000 grant through the Elevation Grant Program. Previously known as the Violent Crime Reduction Grant Program, the Elevation Grant Program, a partnership between the City of Indianapolis and The Indianapolis Foundation, will invest $45 million in neighborhoods over the next three years to address the root causes of violent crime in Indianapolis. According to the 2020 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book, homicide is the third leading cause of death among Indiana youth ages 15 – 24 and the leading cause of death for Black youth. The YEET program seeks to disrupt this. Freewheelin’ believes that lowering the criminal homicide rate starts with the youth—directing them toward a life that avoids both violence and the criminal legal system.
“We believe that by incorporating social, emotional learning concepts, as well as STEM training, students will be able to make positive choices and do short-term and long-term planning that in turn will make them positive citizens in the community”
-Lanisha Clark, executive director at Freewheelin’
Freewheelin’ is committed to have its staff and volunteers reflect the community it serves. Currently, 60 percent of the direct service team identify as people of color, and 50% identify as a women. To advance social justice, the organization purposefully focuses on youth from underappreciated communities with educational opportunities that have lack comprehensive STEM and professional development skills.
“I realized that it was more than just money for young women,” said Destiny Wilson, a current 17-year-old apprentice. “It isn’t your average fast food or McDonald’s job. I feel like I have a purpose, and I’m helping my community—which I’ve never really gotten an opportunity to do before.”
With the investment from the Elevation Grant Program, Freewheelin’ plans to expand the reach of its YEET program and offer more professional development opportunities. Ensuring investments are being made in the Indianapolis community’s youth through development skills and community engagement, coupled with social and emotional learning competencies, will ultimately help them with communication, conflict resolution and positive decision-making. This all equals a positive change in Marion County.
“We can speak to our success stories, our destinies, and dozens of students that have come through in the past couple of years to say that this program is changing our community,” said Clark. “We don’t have the simple solution for a very complicated problem, but we know that this works, and it’s producing community advocates. Our students are becoming champions for the community, and we see this as a part of the solution.”
To learn about sponsorship opportunities for Freewheelin’ Community Bikes, email email@example.com.