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Apr 2002 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

Bikes, Bytes and Brains
By Cindy Brown

BicycleWORKS, founded in 1988 by a Shaw resident, is a program to use the bicycle as a vehicle to teach responsibility and good work habits to young people. In 1996, the Earn-A-Computer concept was added to the program to help bridge the "digital divide" and recycle computers to students who would not normally have access to them. Located at 4100/4102 Shenandoah in the Shaw neighborhood, the organization welcomes youth between the ages of 5 and 17 to its three programs: Earn-A-Bike, Earn-A-Computer and Brains Barn (for after-school homework help). The mission of BicycleWORKS is to provide opportunities for youth to realize their potential and overcome barriers to success. Instead of receiving handouts, youth earn a bicycle or computer and learn how to take care of it.

jumble of kids On nice, warm, sunny Saturdays, if you were to pass by the bike shop at 4102 Shenandoah, you would see a jumble of kids and bikes at various angles and in various states of repair and disrepair. Air for tires is free, a patched inner tube costs a dollar — and of course, you are expected to help out fixing your flat. Occasionally the problems may be a little more serious — the tread worn off the back tire, missing brakes, missing seats — but used parts are reasonable, and the labor is provided by volunteers. Some kids don't really need much work on their bikes so they just come for the company. If they can wheedle Mom or Grandma to come to the shop, they might also get a "new" (reconditioned) used bike.

BicycleWORKS gets donations of bikes from both individuals and organizations. The bikes students don't earn in class are sold by the organization inexpensively to the public. If you need a "beater bike" to ride around town, something fairly steal-proof or are looking for something more "retro" from your childhood, we often get treasures from basements and garages. The volunteers check out the bikes and youth help get them ready for sale. Since the store is staffed entirely by volunteers, our hours are limited to Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm.

ByteWORKS helps get used computers out of closets, basements and other corporate storage places and into the hands of city youth who can then use them for writing papers, playing games and accessing the Internet, like their more affluent suburban counterparts. In an eight-week session, students in 4th-8th grade learn the basics of hardware and software, navigating a Windows desktop, word-processing, painting/graphic arts and the Internet; they then earn a reconditioned Pentium computer.

Starting last year, a six-week program for 2nd and 3rd graders was initiated. Youth learn how to turn their computers on and off and find the applications they need — such as word-processing, painting and games. They then earn a re-conditioned 486 or possibly an early Pentium. Both classes are a success, with dozens of students (and their parents) calling to get on the waiting list. Because of the demand, youth in South St. Louis City get top priority. Classes are held at 4100 Shenandoah on Saturdays from 10 am to 12 noon for 4th-8th graders and 1 to 3 pm for 2nd and 3rd graders.

Brains Barn is the after-school component of both programs. It took a while, but neighborhood youth found out that it was more fun to do their homework with their friends and a caring adult to help them! Once the homework is done, students are free to play games or create artwork on the computers, play board games like Boggle, Scrabble, checkers or chess or just sit and talk with adult friends and their peers.

You can be part of the success!

ByteWORKS class Over the past three years approximately 500 kids a year have participated in one or more of B-WORKS' activities. There are several students who have so much fun in one program that they sign up for another program! Some earn a bike first, then decide that they want to earn a computer. Others come to the after-school program and decide they want to earn a bike and/or a computer. One little girl, Jeanne, earned a bike at the first all-girls Earn-A-Bike class, worked at the shop afterwards helping teach the next class, and earned a bigger bike for herself. It took a few tries, but eventually she earned a computer and has come back to get more printer paper for her school papers. She also shows up at the Brains Barn program with her little sister. She's still coming around the bike shop when it gets warm to earn another bike for her little sister and because she just likes to be useful and help out.

The organization is staffed entirely by a few dedicated volunteers. If you can spare a few hours on Saturday at least once a month, we could use assistance in the bike shop or computer lab; in the late afternoons Monday through Thursday, volunteers are needed in the after-school program. If you can use your computer at work to read e-mail and do word-processing and can turn your computer on and off, then you have the skills needed to assist with Earn-A-Computer classes. If you like tinkering with computers, help is also needed reconditioning the donations.

You don't have to be a whiz-bang bicycle mechanic to help out at the bike shop. We can teach you how to repair a flat tire and you will get lots of practice and perhaps assistance from youthful experts. The mechanically advanced kids are more than happy to show you how to use the compressor to put air in the tires. If you can remember "left-y loose-y, right-y tight-y", then you can wield a screwdriver, wrench or Allen key! Even if you are mechanically disinclined, the kids always appreciate any attention, someone to talk with, and interest in their lives.

To contact us at BicycleWORKS/ByteWORKS, call 314-664-0828; you are most likely to talk to a live person on Saturdays. For more information and volunteer opportunities, check our web site at You can e-mail us at Otherwise, stop by on Saturday mornings around 10 am and roll up your sleeves!

Cindy Brown (a.k.a. the "Bike Lady") lives at the bike shop on Saturdays and runs the after-school program Mondays through Thursdays. She has a high tolerance for ambiguity and loves to manage chaos.

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