Bearings Bike Shop inspires kids to their full potential by helping them find their bearings in life. Many of our youth participants face multifaceted obstacles to success: economic insecurity and generational poverty; under-resourced and underperforming schools; and disproportionate violence, crime, and risk of incarceration. These obstacles become impenetrable barriers when young people do not have the hard and soft skills needed to access and capitalize on opportunities.
Recognizing these barriers, Bearings Bike Shop focuses on the ways young people can break down those barriers and become agents of change for themselves and their communities. We work with young people to help them leverage their inner strengths, build self-confidence, gain valuable employability skills, capitalize on opportunities, and achieve their individual goals. Bearings empowers youth as they develop into successful leaders with purpose, character, and confidence.
Although the prospect of earning a bike is what draws kids to the program, the excitement of learning new skills and being a part of a community keeps them returning, week after week. We exist to engage kids in meaningful, hands-on youth development activities, primarily delivered in three program models.
Skills for Life
Incorporating best practices from other youth empowerment initiatives, Skills for Life creates an environment for kids to learn hard skills, soft skills, and character strengths through fun, hands-on learning opportunities. The program functions as a drop-in after school program, inviting kids to learn how to build and fix bikes and in doing so, earn points and work toward specific milestones. The “earn and learn” component of our Skills for Life program provides an excellent opportunity to instill the fundamentals of financial freedom and independence in a fun and concrete way. When students enroll in the program, they are opening up a “star account” through which they will earn, spend, and save in the bike shop. Staff and volunteers coach students in using smart practices, such as saving an “emergency fund” for unexpected flat tires, distinguishing needs from wants, and staying out of debt.
The open shop project-based learning environment focuses on helping kids develop skills in three key areas:
1. Hard skills including bike assembly, tire repair, brake adjustments, and tune-ups.
2. Soft skills such as critical thinking and communication, which can make the difference in getting and keeping a job.
3. Character strengths such as perseverance and responsibility, that help youth do well in high school, college, and their careers.
The bike shop serves as a vibrant community hub where kids can hang out with positive role models, while helping to eliminate idle time, which can sometimes lead to destructive behavior.
Your first job represents an opportunity to build a strong foundation for success; whether it’s by slinging burgers, lifeguarding at the neighborhood pool, or building bikes, skill development essential to career advancement begins with this crucial milestone.
Frameworks is a workforce development program for high school students that builds upon the youth program of Skills for Life and seeks to translate learned soft skills into valuable employment skills that students can carry with them into their future workplaces.
The program functions primarily as an 8-week intensive summer internship in which students work and receive training and development for 20 hours a week in the bike shop. For most, Frameworks is their first job ever, and skill development starts with the basics, from learning how to show up on time to communicating with an employer and be someone others can count on.
Students serve as peer mentors during programming time, interact with customers, dismantle bikes and prepare the shop for upcoming programs.
In addition to working, the program is supplemented with leadership development and weekly financial literacy classes, teaching money management lessons to students who are earning a paycheck for the first time in their lives. They’re also exposed to vocational opportunities through workplace field trips they might not have considered.
Over the past several years, local school leaders have recognized that the innovative and impactful way that Bearings supports skill development in students. The program seeks to serve students that struggle in a traditional classroom by using authentic experiences to teach responsibility, perseverance, self-management, communication, and critical thinking.
Bearings' staff members coach the students through the bike shop’s mechanical curriculum, building positive developmental relationships and, through the use of evaluation tools, track students' growth in skill development and to share findings with schools and partners.
Feedback from teachers and caregivers has been extremely positive, reporting that their teams see behavioral changes in the classroom as a result of participation in the program. In the shop, Bearings staff observes the biggest areas of growth in improved recovery times after a student gets frustrated and disengages with the work at hand; improved communication skills; and improved attitudes towards school.
The program currently serves four schools in Atlanta Public Schools in partnership with Purpose Built Schools Atlanta and Focused Community Strategies.