For Sandra Evangelina Garcia, bicycles are more than just a way to get around— they are a way of life. However, even though the 17 year old from the Bronx was offered a part time job at Recycle A Bicycle after an eight month internship with the organization, she no longer has a bike.
Garcia recently gave it to an aunt in Mississippi for her birthday. “I felt like she needed it more than I did at the moment,” she said. “She was asking for it.”
Garcia is one of more than 5,000 students from New York City public schools who have taken part in programs at Recycle A Bicycle. The group runs used bike stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and celebrated the opening of a workshop at 46 01 5th St. in Long Island City on June 14.
Recycle A Bicycle also offers job training for young people, bike riding clubs and art classes. There are several in school training programs, with sites in the South Bronx, the Lower East Side and Washington Heights where students can learn about bike mechanics and the environment.
“The bicycle is so versatile that you can take any number of topics and make a class around it,” said the group’s executive director Karen Overton. “I like to think it tricks kids into learning.”
Students participating in the in school programs can even earn a bike through volunteering enough hours with the organization.
The program is funded by its two retail sites, which offer bike parts and repairs, and also makes and sells bikes created from used bicycle parts donated to the shops. Adults and youth alike involved with the organization help build bikes to donate to community programs or to sell in its shops.
Recycle A Bicycle began in 1994 as a grant funded program and as part of Transportation Alternatives, the New York City bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group, but is now independent.
The new Long Island City space, located in a former meat packing factory on the East River, will not serve as a storefront, however, and will instead be the headquarters for 10 high school students interning in a summer job training program for teenagers from low income households.
For many students in the program, it’s their first exposure to the workplace. “The first thing as an intern they made me do was clean out the fridge. After that it was fun,” said Garcia, who was hired after her internship and now does data entry and bookkeeping.
Garcia traveled to Washington, D.C. last year along with three other interns from the program for the National Bicycle Summit to advocate legislation for bicyclists in New York City. “It made me feel like I made a difference,” she said.
The training program will teach kids about mechanical repair, pricing, sales and interacting with customers through workshops and field trips. The program is designed to prepare students for jobs at Recycle A Bicycle and elsewhere. Eighty percent of the workers in its shops completed the internship program.
“Some of the kids that go through the program are motivated for different reasons: Mom wants them to get a job, they signed up because their friends did. Some kids sign up because they are horrible mechanics,” Overton said.
Recycle A Bicycle is also seeking teenage artists to participate in its Third Hand Art summer program in Long Island City, where they will use recycled bicycle parts to make art.
Nearly 50 volunteers and bike enthusiasts stopped by the new space for the kickoff celebration, each with distinctive bikes and helmets in tow.
Liz Shura, 37, pointed out her yellow bike parked near more than 100 colorful cycles of all sizes, most of which were donated or in need of repairs. Shura said she didn’t know much about bicycles before volunteering at Recycle A Bicycle’s Brooklyn shop. “They’ve given me a huge skill set,” she added.