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Advocacy Opportunities

Volunteer Nights Have Returned at Bikes Not Bombs

Two mechanics workon bikes on stands in a crowded workshop with bike tires hanging from the high ceilings.

Youth apprentices at work in the Bikes Not Bombs retail shop.

This summer, Bikes Not Bombs, the nonprofit bike shop in Jamaica Plain, re-started its weekly volunteer night events after a long hiatus during the pandemic.

Bikes Not Bombs, established in 1984, offers a wide range of programs around bicycle repair and youth vocational training. Inside its headquarters in Jamaica Plain's historic Haffenreffer Brewery building near the Stony Brook Orange Line station, Bikes Not Bombs has a sprawling and bustling workshop filled with donated bikes and parts, a retail store, and bike repair workbenches.

On the night we visited at the end of August, volunteers were helping Bikes Not Bombs staff clean and organize event equipment to prepare for its 35th annual Bike-A-Thon fundraiser, held on September 11th.

But according to Andrew Ahern, the shop's Community Engagement Coordinator, a more typical volunteer night would put people to work processing the organization's huge inventory of used and donated bicycles – either by helping to strip down recently-donated bikes down to the frame, sort used bike parts, or by tiding up the sprawling shop.

The work doesn't require any previous experience with bike repair, but it can serve as a good introduction for novices to gain some familiarity and experience with bike tools and parts.

And volunteers help Bikes Not Bombs staff focus on other important work like mentoring and supporting the participants in their Youth Pathways program, which trains local students as apprentices to give them the skills they need to work in a bike shop.

Youth apprentices "might learn customer service, inventory, online sales, buildups, repair, and service," says Sara Lawrence, the Director of People and Culture at Bikes Not Bombs.

Older apprentices aged 18 and older can work as full-time, paid mechanics in the Bikes Not Bombs shop, which offers retail sales and bike repair services for the general public. Several apprentices were working on bikes during volunteer night (photo above).

But apprentices also learn other skills that aim to turn them into leaders in their communities.

"Right now we have them doing some campaign work, and some racial equity work that's going to help the organization as a whole," said Lawrence.

Lawrence herself started out in the youth apprentice program at Bikes Not Bombs, in 2001, when she tried out the organization's earn-a-bike program as a sixth grader.

"It's been a journey," she says.

Outside, next to the bike shop's loading dock, about 10 volunteers were being put to work organizing pop-up tents and cleaning picnic coolers to prepare for the upcoming Bike-A-Thon.

"I live in the neighborhood and found out they had a volunteer night, and I love bikes, so I'm here," said volunteer Rani Schloss, who was attending a volunteer night for the first time that evening.

While she scrubbed out a cooler with dish soap, Schloss told StreetsblogMASS that she'd been involved in bike advocacy for several years, but was looking to get involved with something that could have "more of a direct impact."

"So much of what I've learned about biking and bike maintenance has come from relatively wealthy friends. Not everyone has that network, and so shops like Somerville Bike Kitchen and this place, I'm so glad that they exist because we need more of that everywhere," she said. "But the way that Bikes Not Bombs specifically focuses on youth who are not already clued into those communities, and is just actively trying to give more people access, I think is really crucial."

Another first-time volunteer, Alexa Klein-Mayer, praised the "sense of radical politics" in the work of Bikes Not Bombs.

"I just believe in bikes in a particular way. So personally, having felt pretty empowered by having access to a bike, and knowing how to work on my bike, I also see that in how Bikes Not Bombs moves through the world. The focus on training and education and skill-building is really rad."

Bikes Not Bombs volunteer nights occur most Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 pm. Pre-registration is required and slots fill up quickly – click here to register or learn more about the events.

The Bikes Not Bombs retail shop is open 5 days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, and the Bikes Not Bombs YouTube channel also offers an extensive library of bike repair how-to videos.

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