Elijah Stoute

Elijah Stoute (right) is one student in the program who has recently earned a bike through fulfilling service hours.
Image Credit: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

A Clemson program that provides group mentoring and youth development via bicycle has teamed with a nonprofit bike shop to continue delivering an earn-a-bike program during COVID-19.

Momentum Bike Clubs (MBC), a community initiative of the Clemson University Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, has teamed with Village Wrench, a bike shop and nonprofit based out of Greenville, to deliver the mentoring program for the last several months.

According to Stephanie Fryer, a Clemson staff member who oversees Momentum Bike Clubs’ middle school clubs, the process of adapting a program that is seemingly defined by in-person contact was tricky. When social distancing guidelines made normal mentoring and cycling impossible, both organizations sought a way to eliminate any gaps in delivery to the young people involved.

“The solution was, as with most programs affected by COVID-19, to deliver the mentoring online,” Fryer said. “We wanted to do what we could for kids in the community, many of which need this connection more than ever when they’re forced to stay away from others.”

Mentors, many of whom are volunteers or teachers, have checked in with participating students who are now required to do at least six hours of work to earn a bicycle through the program. The only condition is that work must be in the service of others, even if the others are family members in the next room.

Students have performed yard work, painted rooms, prepared meals, cleaned an elderly neighbor’s house or washed cars to fulfill their time requirements. Parents sign off on the tasks completed, but mentors use the check ins and requirements as a springboard for conversation, interaction and mentoring with participating youth.

“We’ve found over the years that just giving someone a bike means they won’t really take ownership of it,” Fryer said. “It doesn’t mean as much. Even if it’s not volunteering in the traditional sense, this program is still giving students the opportunity to earn a bike, just as it’s giving mentors the reason to check in on kids and make sure they’re handling a particularly difficult time well.”

Jessica Compton, program director for Village Wrench, said there has always been a great deal of overlap in missions for both Village Wrench and MBC. Historically, several MBC students have taken part in 6-Cycle, Village Wrench’s “character and bike-building” program for teens, and many MBC students have also graduated from Village Wrench’s youth apprenticeship with a year and a half of valuable work experience.

While Village Wrench offers their Earn-a-Bike program all year, the adaptation of the program for MBC students has revealed how both organizations benefit from pushing a single program together.

“Since [Village Wrench and MBC] both use bicycles as a platform to engage with people in our community, this COVID-19 collaboration in particular has helped Village Wrench connect donated, rehabbed bikes with students that need them,” Compton said. “The community service encourages students to give back while developing social responsibility. And most of all, students get to keep riding bikes and engaging in physical activity.”

Based on the success of the program, MBC and Village Wrench plan to continue it over the summer and into the next academic year. To donate new or used bicycles or to make a monetary donation, contact Jessica Moss (864-498-3962, Jessica_moss@clemson.edu) or Jessica Compton (843-906-0083, jessica@millcommunity.org).