Community bike program takes shape in Concord
Bicycles repaired by Dorrie Wallace rest in a storage room at Goodwill in Concord on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Wallace, a former inmate at Shea Farm, a halfway house for women, has been fixing bicycles for Recycled Cycles since the program began in April.
Dorrie Wallace brings a donated youth bicycle to working order at Goodwill in Concord on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Wallace, a former inmate at Shea Farm, a halfway house for women, has been part of Recycled Cycles since the program began in April.
Dorrie Wallace will tell you it’s only been a few months since she began tinkering with bicycles. But spend just five minutes watching the 39-year-old Concord resident repair one, and you’ll wonder if she hasn’t been doing it for years.
Wallace, a former inmate at the Shea Farm Transitional Housing Unit, a halfway house on Iron Works Road in Concord, is one of the first participants in a pilot project by Goodwill Workforce Solutions, in collaboration with S&W Sports and Central New Hampshire Bicycling Coalition. A brainchild of S&W owner Tim Farmer, the project, called Recycled Cycles, aims to place safe, affordable two-wheeled transportation in the hands of underserved populations, and to provide them with bike maintenance and vocational training.
While still taking shape, the overall concept, program manager Kelly Paquette said, is to create a community bike shop in downtown Concord where those populations – be they parolees, homeless individuals or children from low-income families – can obtain a bike, and in the process learn how to fix and maintain it.
“Our hope is that someday we have a shop so that not only do you have people learning bike repair, but you have them actually manning the store and they get that customer service and that sales and that bookkeeping experience,” Paquette said. “They’re running the show.”
The project had been on Farmer’s mind for years, but it finally took off this spring after he began mentoring inmates at Shea Farm on bike repair. The facility loans bikes to inmates to travel to jobs in the community, and
after years of wear and tear, many of them had fallen into disrepair. Goodwill, which helps female inmates re-enter the workforce, got involved, and a partnership emerged.
For now, the project is run out of Goodwill’s office on North Main Street, and Wallace is the only participant. But the group has plans for a larger operation, replete with a training program that could serve dozens of people at a time, and a storefront presence downtown where customers could purchase restored bikes and bring those they own for repairs.
The goal, Farmer said, is not to drive business away from his or other bike shops, but rather to create a resource for would-be cyclists who lack the financial resources to frequent those businesses. To ensure that end, he said the store will likely only repair bikes purchased through the program or that don’t need brand-new replacement parts.
“It wouldn’t be for people to just save a few bucks,” Farmer said. “That’s not the idea behind it.”
While talk of a storefront continues – the group has yet to find an affordable space to lease – the group is working on other priorities: developing curriculum, building a marketing campaign and composing a budget.
“We’re sort of in the R and D phase here at Recycled Cycles,” Paquette said.
But they’ve already seen tangible success. With seed funding from the bike coalition, Wallace and another woman, who has since left the program, restored and helped sell more than 200 bikes through two events: one in May at the coalition’s annual bike swap, the other in August at Goodwill’s retail shop on Loudon Road.
The bikes, which sell for about $35 each, are restored with as many recycled parts as possible, Paquette said.
She and Wallace said their goal this winter is to fix 500 bikes, which they’ll then sell next year and use the proceeds to help further the program. To do that, they added, they’ll need more bikes. Lots more. No matter the condition. Especially adult bikes. Bike parts, too. (Donations can be made at S&W in Concord or at the Goodwill store on Loudon Road.)
Wallace, who was released from Shea Farm in July and has been working for the project since, in addition to a weekend job at Dunkin’ Donuts, said she’s grateful to both have the job and to have picked up a new trade.
“The program is great. The opportunity is great. I’m just lucky they picked me to do it,” Wallace said, adding that one of the perks is seeing her work put to use in the community. “I see people riding around and it’s like, ‘Hey, I remember that bike.’ ”
Wallace said employment options for women with a criminal record are limited.
“If you’re not going for waitressing or Dunkin’ Donuts, there aren’t many opportunities,” she said.
Paquette said the goal of the project is, first and foremost, to provide “affordable transportation for people who can’t afford it. And safe transportation. And the skills to be able to fix bikes.” But she added that it’s also about helping former female inmates get “their feet wet back in the working world again.”
“The hope would be we have enough funding that someone interested in going to work would go through job readiness training, then bike maintenance and repair training, and then hopefully we can pay them a bit for on-the-job experience to better position them to go look for work,” she said.
But Wallace hopes to stick with her current employment for the foreseeable future.
“It’s getting big really fast,” she said. “That’s exciting.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)