Women in our Shifting Gears Program at the South Boise Correctional Center have fixed up 50% of the kid bikes donated at our past two Kids Bicycle and Safety Hours (B.A.S.H.), along with the bikes we donated to Duck Valley.  As Youth Programs Coordinator, I double check these bikes--along with many awesome volunteers--and assign them to kids. For awhile it seemed to me like all these serviced kids bikes were appearing at our shop! I knew they came from Shifting Gears, but I didn’t know much more to their story.  

That changed in mid-April, when Emily asked me if I was interested in going out to the Correctional Center to teach bike mechanics to the women there.  Now I get to follow the full story of these bicycles, beginning when they enter our backyard as donations, alongside the women who work on them in the Shifting Gears Program, as I teach bike safety to the kids who are newly riding them at our BASHes, and finally as I fix them up--hopefully a long while later--at our Mobile Repairs.  


Shifting Gears is a BBP program running at the South Boise Correctional Center since 2016, where women learn bike mechanic basics, fix up fifteen kids bikes, volunteer at a Kids B.A.S.H., and receive a bicycle and a BBP Membership upon their release.  Laura Carlson heads the program at the center, interviewing and choosing women to participate. A BBP educator--Lucky, and now every other week, myself--teaches at the Correctional Center once a week on Saturday mornings.

However, the women often organize and teach each other.  A few leaders step up and make themselves available to train other women throughout the week, showing those who are newer to the program how to service a kid’s bike.  New women will shadow an experienced women through three bikes, then begin work on their own fifteen. Women are paid a small wage for the time they spend working, but the main reason women have told me they join the Shifting Gears Program is because of the empowerment--learning to wrench on bikes--and fulfillment--getting to witness the kids receiving their bikes--that it offers.

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Although I go to the Correctional Center to teach, I gain more than I could ever give by learning from the empowerment and fulfillment the women find.  I’ve learned the strength that the motivation of loving one’s children can inspire. When volunteering at our giveaways, multiple women experience both intense joy and sadness at the BASHes, as they are reminded of their own children and grandchildren.  One mother expressed her matter-of-fact determination not to return to the Correctional Center because now she has a child to care for, a child she had a couple weeks after her conviction.

I’ve enjoyed working with Stormy, one of the leaders among the Shifting Gears women, and observing her teach the other participants.  I noticed both her knack for mechanics and her excellence in instructing almost immediately. Talking to her more I discovered that she’s taught herself some basic auto mechanics and welding; she got tired of asking her guy friends for help with her car, so she figured out what she needed to do herself.  I feel a heck of a bunch of inspiration from that!

In return for the time they give to the program, the BBP ensures that the women receive a commuter bicycle, a helmet, lights and locks upon their graduation.  Women at the Correctional Center hail from all over Idaho, and many return to northern or eastern Idaho upon their release. In these cases, BBP has shipped bicycles and worked with bike shops and co-ops local to those areas to connect women with their bikes.  Tom Morgan at the Lake City Bike Collective has been supportive of our program since its inception, and graciously provides graduates in Kootenai County with bikes from his own shop’s inventory.

It is thanks to the women in the Shifting Gears Program--and now, more recently, the men of Operation Kickstand--that Boise Bicycle Project is able to donate the extent of bicycles that we do to kids, throughout the year and leading up to the Holiday Kids Bike Giveaway.  In fact, those programs combined have the capacity to fix up more kids bikes than our shop space can hold! For now, they’re bringing half of the bikes they fix back to the shop, and storing the rest at the men’s facility. This means more bikes ready for the Holiday Kids Bike Giveaway!  So, keep your kids bikes donations coming, because not only do they benefit the kids who receive them, but they benefit the women who fix them up as well!

With Pedal Power,