- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — Almost a year after its launch, a bicycle mechanics program for kids at the Boys & Girls Club is almost running flat.
Ed Hoell of the Eastern Trail Alliance, one of the partner organizations, said the program continues to do incredible work, but has limited resources and needs to attract new financial support.
“When we started the program, I wanted to try to find funding, but didn’t want to go after businesses or organizations that were already helping,” Hoell said. “I approached friends and families for funding. We received a grant from the Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative. We’re keeping it going financially, but we always could use more volunteers and more help.”
Hoell has been leading the partnership between the alliance, the Community Bicycle Center of Biddeford, and the South Portland Boys & Girls Club since June 2018. The kids who participate range from 10-14, and there are typically eight to 10 kids in each session.
Hoell, who worked in youth development services at the Boys & Girls Club in Boston for 25 years, moved to Maine to retire in 2016, but soon developed an interest in continuing his work with the local club.
He first approached Karen McDonald, chief operating officer of the club, who was excited about the idea. A subsequent conversation with then-ETA Executive Director Carole Brush led Hoell to the CBC to learn about current curricula dealing with bike safety and maintenance. The ETA was happy to promote the trail, which is only 50 feet from the club’s back door.
“We’re directly on the Greenbelt Trail and it’s a very quick ride to Bug Light and back, so we have this natural space that we’re so lucky to utilize,” McDonald said. “But it’s a challenge for us to raise resources every year to meet the commission; we are still tackling the summer program costs and will need to continue raising resources.”
Hoell said $1,500-$2,000 is needed to fund the summer bicycle mechanics program, but wouldn’t specifiy how much has been collected.
The Boys & Girls Club, which has a $2 million budget, raises resources to fund all its programs through individual and corporate donations, as well as through grants, foundations and special events. McDonald said partnerships play an important role in the diversity of programs the organization can offer.
Kids in the bicycle mechanics program visit the CBC once a week for eight weeks and receive a used but serviceable bike to work on and keep. Older CBC teens serve as mentors under the guidance of CBC Program Director Cliff Oliver. Participants learn how to fix a flat, adjust brakes, and clean and lube a chain.
It’s skills like these, Hoell said, that kids need to be successful in the future.
“They gain a real sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, and learn to become comfortable with challenges, and navigate problem-solving techniques,” he said. “We want kids to take on something that may lead to initial failure, because once they get it, the look on their faces says it all. There is no clearer sense of accomplishment than to put together a bike and have it be yours when it’s finished.”
Community Bicycle Center has been providing bikes or educational opportunities to the community for 18 years. So a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club only seemed natural to cultivate, Oliver said.
“We work on building good, strong relationships with kids to keep them resilient and teach them life skills, and get a lot of donations from the public to assist in that goal,” he said. “The future goal is to have kids build a bunch of these bikes at our shop, and have a fleet at the Boys & Girls Club available for them to ride at any time.”
McDonald said the club was initially interested because one of its goals is to help all members develop healthy lifestyles. By incorporating bicycles into their fitness routine, kids put some sweat equity into rebuilding the bike and learn commitment skills in the process, she said.
The first program ran from July-August last year, then again from October-December. The most recent program took place in April and May.
Hoell said the next program will take place at some point in July, if the necessary funding is found.
Ed Hoell of the Eastern Trail Alliance works on a bike with with two members of the South Portland Boys & Girls Club.
South Portland Boys & Girls Club members line up with the bikes they rebuilt during the summer 2018 program.