“Bike boom” expands nonprofit’s message of community support

Accidents & Traffic

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – During this global pandemic, both national and international data found that more people have been looking for safe ways to get out the house. One of them, cycling. Recent data found biking levels in the United States had increased over 250% in the last year. Village Wrench West Greenville, community bike shop, has been busier than usual due to the bike boom.

Village Wrench is a one-stop-shop because they sell bikes, teach riders how to fix bikes, and give bikes to those in need. Shop volunteer, Carl Anderson, said he’s proud to be a part of something that has ultimately grown, and continues to grow, the Greenville cycling community.

“Every time I come in here I learn something and I also feel like I’m helping some people too,” Anderson said.

In the shop he’s worked on old bicycles, turning them new again, for sale. He’s also helped with the 6-cycle program, which teaches kids the basics of bikes.

“It’s fun for me and the kids enjoyed it. We both learn something,” Anderson added.

There’s also a chance for teens to become Mechanic Apprentices, where they could learn all there is about bikes and the business itself. Anderson joked then they’re teaching him, but really, they teach each other.

In addition to program assitance, volunteers help run the monthly bike repair events, which are similar to tailgate parties, Village Wrench Program Director Jessica Compton explained.

“It’s just as much about the hospitality piece and loving each other and knowing each other as it is about fixing a bicycle and it’s also about teaching people,” she said.

Village Wrench started as a Saturday monthly bike repair event, hosted by Mill Community Ministries, in 2013 across the city of Greenville. Then as they grew in popularity, so did the demand for refurbished and donated bicycles, a brick and mortar shop was opened in 2015.

From there, Village Wrench needed more help with the growing nonprofit and the 14 month Mechanic Apprenticeship Program began. At the end 2020, Village Wrench had repaired 1161 bicycles, 26 6-Cycle trainees, and 159 bicycles were earned.

Compton noted that while last year’s numbers were great, COVID-19 did put a damper on things. Everything from the bike shop to the monthly events had to shutdown for a while. But they eventually started back up slowly and safely. Since the boom is still going, she said they need help now more than ever. There are three ways to help.

“One is volunteering. We have orientations every single month, where you can learn what we do to make sure you’re on board with the different opportunities. You can give. So, we have a donation platform online, and also donate your old bicycle, parts, cycling accessories and clothes. Third thing you can do is come patron the shop. Be a business supporter as well,” Compton explained.

In addition to community support for the 501C3, Compton added, connections with local businesses and schools help the shop stay connected and find people in need within the community.

But, the biggest community connection is still the first Saturday monthly bike program.

She said event attendees turn strangers into friends while everyone learns how to fix bikes, or about riding clubs, and how-to earn a bike. 

“Our kind of hashtag motto is ‘fix bikes, make friends’ And we’re all about developing community, connecting the community. Particularly through bicycle repair, upward mobility-so that’s economic, and educational empowerment for students,” Compton said.

For those in need of transportation, anyone can earn a bike, Compton said. She noted that the economic impact of creating the opportunity to earn a bike, by doing anywhere from five to 20 hours of community service, has created twofold situation of positivity.

Riders who’ve earned their bike gain a sense of pride and self-worth from having put in work for their bike; and then, they’ve gained community pride through the service hours put in for the bike. Not to mention, more cyclist in the Greenville community using a financially independent mode of ecofriendly transportation, Village Wrench counts as the ultimate win.

Anderson has been a volunteer for almost four years, and loves cycling. But biking isn’t his hobby he picked up after retiring from practicing medicine. It’s his lifelong passion.

“My dad had an old Sears, they called them English Racers, with the smaller tires bikes. This was like, in the ’50s. He built this little wooden seat he put on the back and my first memory is riding on that,” Anderson said.

He explained that he considered himself a true cyclist in 1971, when he biked from Atlanta, Georgia to Beaufort, South Carolina. During his doctoral residency, he biked from home to the hospital as much as he could.

Anderson’s love of cycling has taken him across several states, allowed him to help raise money for the Alzeihmer’s Association’s Ride to Remember, and has given him the chance to give back to his Greenville community.

Compton noted, Village Wrench is grateful for Anderson, and those like him. It’s because of donations of time, money, and all things bike have been helping the nonprofit grow since 2013, she added.

“We don’t ever purchase brand new bicycles. It’s all just what’s donated and then we get it back out and rolling in the community,” Compton said.  

Old bike parts create new refurbished bikes and new opportunities for the future. For more information about Village Wrench West Greenville, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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