Wednesday, October 7 , 2015, 12:42 pm | Fair 75º

Bici Centro’s Youth Summer Program Pedals Community Goodwill, Not Charity

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition has given away more than 300 bikes and graduated twice as many students through its summer program.
The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition has given away more than 300 bikes and graduated twice as many students through its summer program.  (Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition photo)

By Ed France for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition |

Why we do it.

It is Monday. The office and Bici Centro Shop are closed. My morning coffee from next door is in hand, and with the other, I reach for my keys to our door. Now is when I am most productive, my down time, when I focus. Two women are waiting in front of the door. They need to be helped. Normally I strictly refer people to come back the next day.

“Good morning.” I try to smile. “How are you?”

“I see that you aren’t open,” one woman explains, “but I need help with my son in the bike camp. You see, his friends are in it, but today his bike didn’t have brakes yet. He was real upset and told me it has to be ‘in safe working condition.’ We’re gonna fix it tonight and get him in tomorrow.”

The woman looks weathered, a bit dazed. She is committed to making this happen for her son, who clearly wants to be in the bike camp with his friends.

“We have a friend who found the bike for him and fixed it up,” she adds. “We’re gonna fix it tonight, and he’ll join tomorrow. We’re between housing right now, and I need a scholarship for him.”

By then, our education director, Christine Bourgeois, also quietly working in the office on our closed day, has walked up to us at the threshold.

“Christine, our friend here is hoping to have her son in the bike camp. Can we still make this happen?” I ask.

She smiles. The summer camp is her gift to the community, one of the programs she runs for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and a program we’ve carefully cultivated over the last five years. She happily intercedes from here: “Sure, come on in and have a seat at our table.”

At the conference table, Christine hands the woman a scholarship form. For years, we’ve worked to raise money to make this program affordable and accessible for all. This includes making the $250 cost of the weeklong, hands-on summer program nearly free to most participants, with a registration cost of only $20 to $50. We’ve also been able to give away more than 300 bikes and graduated twice as many students.

From our first board fundraiser for $12,000 to grants from the Santa Barbara and Orfalea foundations, to now a 50/50 combination of Measure A grants and in-kind donations, we’re now able to make the summer class accessible to everyone, from private school kids to working poor, and to several of the homeless downtown students.

Within a few minutes, Christine and the mother of our newest student at the Santa Barbara Junior High Summer Bike Camp have done all the paperwork, registered the new student and even secured the new enrollee with a helmet, as her son didn’t have one.

The helmet wasn’t given away as charity. The $250 class, which is typically charged at $50 (thanks to the grant monies, scholarship, and donations previously mentioned), was now free via a scholarship, but our mother was determined to pay for the helmet.

Christine offered to sell the helmet at cost, which is $10. The woman thought for a minute. She didn’t have any money, but a friend who worked on our block had money she could lend her.

It took a few minutes, and one might think we should have just given the helmet away. But no, as we’ve based all of our community offerings on exchange, be it small fees, cost of goods, a survey, a class or work trade — some commodity “changes hands” — no free lunch, or helmet.

Minutes later, the woman came back with her friend, who paid the $10 cash directly to Christine. Now all was set for her son’s first day of camp tomorrow. She had accepted our scholarship, but not outright charity. She had taken the time and effort to show up and register her child and had extended herself to buy him the helmet he needed. She left proud. We were proud. It was a beautiful moment.

— Ed France is executive director of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

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