Cycling Chicago: Meet Chris & Aaron @ Blackstone Bicycle Works

Interview at Blackstone Bicycle Works

The website for Blackstone Bicycle Works describes it as a youth education program of the Experimental Station but as I talked to people in the cycling community and watched the kids and the customers in the space, it seemed like much more. There was a quiet buzz of activity in every corner. People seemed comfortable. Like being at home.

Aaron Swanton is Youth Program Manager. Chris Willard is Shop Operations Manager. They both work with the kids, showing them how to repair the bikes and guiding them as the kids try their hand at making repairs themselves. They have an amazing connection with the youth that come there.

FOB: What is Blackstone Bicycle Works?

AARON: We first opened in 1994 but a fire gutted the place in 2001. It was a mess and we moved to a temporary space. It was completely rebuilt and we re-opened in 2006. Our mission is youth and child education, teaching them mechanical, academic, life, and business skills. We try to build a cooperative spirit where they learn how to work together, to help each other. They’re able to earn a bicycle by accumulating a certain number of hours and during the summer there are internships they can participate in.

FOB: What age range do you work with?

AARON: During the school year, it’s 11-13 years old. During the summer, the range is 8-18 with former students coming back to participate.

FOB: So describe the internships. What kinds of things do the kids do?

AARON: The internships include learning how to run the POS system, how to give good customer service, how to do bike maintenance and repair. We teach the older kids to teach the younger ones; we believe in peer-to-peer mentoring. The mentoring and internships sometime lead to part or full time work. Two of our former interns have now gone to work for the University’s (of Chicago) bike share program.

FOB: What do kids get out of biking?

CHRIS: A bike can get a kid off his block and help him expand his world.

 

Friends of Blackstone Library presents author Greg Borzo Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in “Cycling Chicago”, 6-7:00pm. Blackstone Library is located at 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. It is a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

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