Greenville nonprofit bike shop offers teens free bikes, life skills, job security

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GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – Free food, a free bike, and freedom from boredom are what nonprofit bike shop, Village Wrench’s Director, Jessica Compton, said students in 8th through 11th grades get when joining one of two 6-Cycle programs.

“We are trying to develop relationships with students and walk with them through their adolescence. To become really confident workers post high school into college or whatever job they secure,” Compton explained.

The 6-Cycle, first and second gear, are bike repair and character development programs. She added that first gear is more towards character strength and skills for safe and confident bike riding. Where as, second gear is a build on first gear with a more in-depth look at bike repair, and readiness for students interested in working as an apprentice in the shop the following summer.

There are also mechanic mentors who facilitate bike repair and character development activities. They also offer everyday life advice, Wade Hampton High School 11th grader, Monty Roberson added.

“With the help of Jessica and other mentors I learned to like come out of my shell. I’ve learned to be more like trusting of like myself. More, more out there,” Roberson said.

Roberson is one of six Village Wrench Bike Repair Apprentices. While her true love is dance, Roberson’s passion for bicycles is deep, but still fairly new, though she’s been around bicycles for most of her life.

“I cut my toe in half when I was riding the bike. So, for a while I kind of like strayed away from bikes. I didn’t want to be on one,” Roberson said.

Nonetheless, she’s thrived at bike repair, Compton noted, and Roberson will easily be able to use her bike knowledge outside of of the shop. Roberson’s mother owns a bike shop. Her mother received business support, Village Launch, through Village Wrench Bike Shop’s founding organization, Mill Community Ministries.

Therefore, having Roberson join 6-Cycle was a no brainer, even if she initially wasn’t on board.

“I didn’t really want to go. But my mom wanted me to go. She was like ‘there’s free food there.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going'” Roberson smiled. “I was like ‘ugh this is going to be so awkward.’ But, my mentor at the time, Francis, helped me through a lot of it and I felt comfortable. I was like ‘I really like bikes!’ “

Since the inception of the programs, Compton counted 24 students have completed 6-Cycle. There have been at least four sets of six teens doing six weeks of work. She happily noted that they seem to come back and help out.

“Celly was one of our very first 6-cycle students and then he became an apprentice. This past year, he just finished his freshman year at North Greenville University. He served as a 6-Cycle mentor in the fall. So, he came back to Village Wrench on Monday nights and was working with students. Which is like just great, that’s what it’s all about is connecting this community, that comes full circle. Devon, [Celly’s] co-worker was an apprentice, is now in the National Guard and also is a really intense very strong cyclist,” Compton said. “We’ve got students that are starting to really thrive beyond our program. Seeing where they go after they graduate is really exciting.”

Roberson recently started her year long apprenticeship and has found a true calling as a bike mechanic. She plans to be the main mechanic for her mother’s bike company.

“Turning the spoke. turning the wheel. making sure that it’s aligned. That’s basically like my favorite part because you have to be so precise with it,” Roberson explained.

Compton added that 6-Cycle in addition to the Bike Apprenticeship truly grows the student.

“Through interacting with customers, they’re learning way more bicycle repair and becoming really competent mechanics, and without fail become more confident individuals as well,” Compton noted.

“I’m trying to get myself more out to people. Like, I’m more of a reserved person. I try to stay to myself. But, this job really requires me to go up to people and be like ‘Hey! Welcome to Village Wrench.’ I’m not used to that now. But, I am learning to get used to it and come out of my shell,” Roberson said.

The 6-Cycle program is actively looking for more students, as well as, mentors Compton said. They’re also looking for more bike part and financial donations, since it costs Village Wrench around $5,000 per student for the program. Compton said the aim is to continue to keep it free for students, wanting anyone to join.

“Setting students up with a one-on-one long term mentor for at least a year, it’s partnering with them, working in the bike shop and just like having a go-to-person that also is joining us for apprentice training. Kind of meeting students on like a personal life level as well.”

Do it! You only live once. It’s like a great way to learn about yourself,”Roberson added.

While Roberson dreams of becoming a professional dancer, she’s currently a member of Relentless Purpose, with plans of attending the Fine Arts Center for school. She added the relationships through these programs, will truly last a lifetime. 

For more information on how to donate, volunteer, or join one of the programs for Village Wrench Bike Shop, click here.

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