Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 33
 
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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“So Many Things Converge in the World of Bikes”: Wilson School Students Launch Program in Trenton

Dilshanie Perera

A surprise donation of 40 bikes, a wine collection auction, and the partnership between two graduates of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and a Trenton nonprofit all led to the creation of Greater Donnelly Bicycle Works, a teen bike repair and mentoring program.

When a staff member at the Wilson School named Betteanne Bertrand mentioned to Yuh Wen Ling that she had a number of old bikes in the basement of her co-op that she wanted to donate, Ms. Ling was reminded of a bike repair program for kids on the south side of Chicago, where she went to school as an undergraduate, and wondered whether a similar project could be piloted in the area.

She approached fellow student and avid cyclist Frank Norcross, and the two began brainstorming a course of action.

With some classmates having volunteered as mentors or tutors at the Greater Donnelly Initiative, a nonprofit organization serving the communities in north Trenton, the duo felt that the Greater Donnelly community might be an ideal place to launch the program, and that the project might fall within the scope of the Initiative, which was looking to expand its programming. “It seemed like such a natural fit” Mr. Norcross observed.

Project Site Director for Weed and Seed at Greater Donnelly Bill McLaughlin, who manages gang-resistance and youth programs, said that “this community has really benefited from its partnership with the Woodrow Wilson graduate students throughout the year, and now with the BikeWorks program, we have even more to offer the kids that will give them life skills and a hook to take advantage of tutoring and mentoring programs that we offer.”

Funding for the program was gained largely through an auction of Mr. Norcross’s wine collection, which Ms. Ling reported contributed $2,000 to the BikeWorks. Kopp’s Cycles also helped in the purchase of tools and equipment below retail costs.

Both Ms. Ling and Mr. Norcross delayed their post-graduate jobs in order to start the youth initiative, and by July it was up and running.

Thinking they might pilot the project with a small group of teens, aged 13 to 17, the BikeWorks ended up seeing between 40 and 50 participants in the three weeks of its operation.

“The kids are burgeoning bike mechanics now,” Mr. Norcross said, adding that their goal was to teach the “simple mechanics of working on bikes,” and that secondary lessons included honing reading and listening skills, and instilling a sense of confidence.

“So many things converge in the world of the bike program,” Ms. Ling remarked, “whether it’s being able to fix a flat tire, or learning about recycling, transportation, and physics through making the bicycles roadworthy again.”

“The people of Greater Donnelly are amazing,” Mr. Norcross observed, lamenting that many of the organization’s programs are “operating on a shoestring.”

“This was something that was very difficult to walk away from,” Mr. Norcross admitted, though he and Ms. Ling are in the process of determining how to make their program sustainable.

Currently they plan to have a bike mechanic train adults interested in participating, and to encourage Woodrow Wilson School students to be mentors at the BikeWorks.

Trustee of the Greater Donnelly Intiative Patricia Pickrel noted that “we could use volunteers to participate in the BikeWorks program, even if they only have a couple of hours a month.” Volunteer tutors, donations of used bikes, and monetary donations are all sought as well. All donations go directly to the Greater Donnelly community programs.

For more information, e-mail contact.initiative@yahoo.com, call (609) 466-0276, or visit www.GreaterDonnelly.com.

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