For Charlotte’s residents, the Re-Cyclery on North Davidson is a familiar sight. It’s difficult to miss the brightly colored mural on the wall as you head towards NoDa. But not as many Charlotteans know the national movement behind the Re-Cyclery or the extent of the work done for many local Charlotte communities.
“The Re-Cyclery is actually the third phase of the project,” explains Paula Fricke, executive director of Trip For Kids Charlotte. TFKC is the Charlotte chapter of the national non-profit organization Trips For Kids International, founded in 1988 and based in California. In Charlotte, the project is comprised of three individual but intertwined programs, each designed to use the sport of mountain biking as a way to prepare kids for active and successful lives.
Phase 1: Saturday Morning Rides
In 1999, Trips For Kids Charlotte began a Saturday morning ride program, an organized trail ride for 10 to 15 year olds. It wasn’t long before they found a way to fill the bike seats. “We visited the Charlotte Mayor Mentoring Alliance. There were all sorts of youth groups there. These were all the kids we could hope for,” says Fricke. TFKC began partnering with several of these groups, adding value to the work each organization provided. “For many of these groups, our program is a reward for the kids” Fricke adds.
The Saturday rides are held at Col. Francis Beatty Park. The trails range in difficulty so the group can offer a challenge to every skill level. Each ride is around 10 miles long and the kids are fed a nutritious lunch before they head home. Bikes are provided to kids who can’t bring their own. Participation has increased and a second bike trailer and location was added to serve more children. Last year, over 600 kids were able to ride with the group.
Phase 2: Earn-a-Bike
Many of the kids attending the Saturday morning rides either didn’t have a bike or at least, not a very good one. Fricke and the TFKC team created a solution that not only provided kids a bike who otherwise may not have had one, but does so in a way that continues the life lessons that are the real goals of the program.
Fricke explains that in order for a child to earn a bike they must attend 6 hours of training over 3 nights. Participants are taught about the basic engineering of a bike, general maintenance, and basic bike repairs such as changing a tire. Each group finishes their class with a bike safety rodeo.
The Earn-a-bike program began in 2004 but really took off when the retail space, the Re-Cyclery, opened. Approximately 80 to 100 kids complete the program each year and are presented with a bike that they have earned and can take care of themselves.
Phase 3: The Re-Cyclery
The backbone of the Trips For Kids initiative is teaching kids independence and responsibility. That spirit influences the way the organization is funded. “The overall plan was to have the Re-Cyclery become profitable and support the Trips for Kids Charlotte activities. This would allow us to focus more on working with the kids and less on fund raising,” Fricke explains.
The idea is simple. Donated bikes, either used (dusty, not rusty) or new, are prepared for resale or provided to the kids via the Earn-a-Bike program. Profit from bike sales are used to support other TFKC programs.
Besides the Saturday rides and allowing kids to earn their wheels, TFKC also encourages their kids to complete service projects. “We have trail work days where we clean up trails or put up signs,” says Fricke. “We also man support stations at group rides.”
While TFKC works towards being self-supportive, they do receive help from various clubs and retail stores in the area. The Charlotte Cannonballs Cycling Team and Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) are strong supporters. “The Cannonballs have one ride event each year, the Ride for Pride,” says Fricke. Funds from that ride help support TFKC. REI has stepped up to help in several ways. They’ve donated the bikes to fill the second trailer. They also provided us the needed sleeping bags to use for camping trips, giving us more flexibility in programs,” says Fricke. A list of other generous groups that provide support for TFKC is available on the website.
There are a couple challenges, “Transportation holds us back. Not all the kids that want to participate can get to the Saturday morning rides,” says Fricke. The biggest need, however, is bikes. “We always need to get bikes in the door to repair for the kids or to sell and raise money,” she says. Fricke mentions that many groups will include bike drives with their events such as company picnics.
There aren’t many things sweeter to a kid than the freedom that comes with riding their own bike. The lessons of responsibility and self-reliance learned from earning a bike will carry on for the rest of his or her life. If you’d like to learn more about how Trips For Kids is making that happen or how you can help, visit their website or stop by the Re-Cyclery at 512 15th St, Charlotte.