A volunteering story by: Chris Clason
Simon was pleasantly surprised to discover that unlike most of the other community service organizations where the work consisted mainly of cleaning or sorting donations, The Austin Yellow Bike Project had volunteers spending the time doing something infinitely more interesting and educational: fixing bikes! Although there was still a small bit of standard housekeeping and donation organizing, the vast majority of the hours were spent learning how to and actually repairing bicycles. Because he arrived at the organization with minimal to no mechanical experience, they set him up rehabilitating the children’s bicycles. Kid’s bikes are easier to fix than adult ones because they are generally less complex. Most of them didn’t need much: tightening the chain, replacing the tubes, some various cosmetic updating. As he went on and gained more experience, he got better at diagnosing the issues and executing slightly more complex repairs like tightening hubs on loose wiggly wheels, realigning handlebars, and tightening brakes. The work was fairly easy and the coordinators were very patient and helpful in teaching the skills. Once the bikes were all fixed up, some of them were hand painted yellow to be put out in service in the community for their honor system bike sharing program, and others were prepared to be delivered to people that really needed them, such as Hurricane Katrina evacuees for example.
Unfortunately, 16 year old Simon got mixed up one evening with some unsavory characters from school to participate in vandalization of school property. Justice was served, and along with a host of other punishments, he was ordered to complete 20 hours of community service. His probation officer provided him with list of options, and being an animal lover he was immediately drawn to an animal shelter, but when he inquired they told him that they were not accepting new volunteers at the moment. Dejected and feeling somewhat demoralized by the experience as a whole, he shared this with an upperclassman he knew and looked up to, and he recommended the Austin Yellow Bike Project as a fun and worthwhile place to volunteer that would certainly accept him. Simon respected this upperclassman very much, and was very impressed with his BMX biking skills that he hoped to someday be able to replicate. Simon felt that this particular volunteering opportunity would help him deepen his experience with bicycles and bike culture, which would further his goal of being just as awesome at BMX as his friend. Similarly, he looked forward to working with his hands and learning a relevant skill that would hopefully prove very useful for a lifetime. Philanthropy was not really a factor in the decision, but he found that part of the experience rewarding as well after he saw the impact of his work first hand.
The Aha! moment…
Simon’s entry into this volunteer experience came at a very trying and difficult time of his life. He was deeply embarrassed and ashamed at having gotten himself into this mess in the first place, and was not looking forward to having to complete this portion of his punishment. However, The Austin Yellow Bike Project proved much more fun and rewarding than he was expecting. The coordinators were extremely warm and welcoming. No appointment, interview, or application was necessary to begin work – just show up, and they start teaching you how to fix bikes right away. Part of the organization’s contribution is that they teach members of the community how to repair bicycles and provide the facility and tools to do so free of charge, so they were excellent and patient teachers. Simon had no experience at all with this sort of thing, so he learned a great deal about ‘wrenching,’ diagnosing problems and executing repairs. He was inspired by the purveyors of the establishment as well. These guys were so passionate about bikes and about helping out members of the community get mobile and advocating for better bike transport for the benefit of the city of Austin as a whole. Simon had never really been around anyone like that before, and he found it refreshing and enlightening. On a more casual note, he also learned a few new BMX tricks from the other volunteers there, including how to do a pretty sweet manual!
To summarize it in three words…
- Practical, Meaningful, Enlightening
Why should you do this
Simon would definitely recommend for others to volunteer in this manner. It feels great to give back to the community and help improve where you live. The opportunity to make someone else’s life better is very rewarding! For Yellow Bike Project in particular, it is a great organization that teaches you a life skill while improving the community and the terrible traffic problem in Austin bit by bit. Go try it!