Free Wheelin', a new summer camp program in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, pays teens $15 an hour to learn how to fix bikes and safely navigate city streets on two wheels. And at the end of the free program, participants get to keep the bike they rebuild.
The program, which is coming to the end of its first 3 weeks, was created by One Community especially for young people living in public housing. One Community is a Fort Greene and Clinton Hill organization that brings locals and neighborhood institutions together to reduce inequality in the area.
Due to its success in its first summer, Free Wheelin' has plans to continue into the school year and bring in more cohorts of bikers-to-be, ages 14-17.
The point of Free Wheelin' is deeper than learning about bikes, CEO of One Community Jed Marcus said. The mission is to give low income young people as many opportunities and choices as possible, and "a feeling of agency and opportunity."
"This is just one of the programs where resources in the community are offered to young people in a way that gives young people recreational, educational and vocational kinds of opportunities."
One Community addresses socioeconomic divides in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods by facilitating ways to share and build resources.
"We do this by creating very concrete and specific programs that immediately change people's lives in some way," Marcus said.
One Community trains formerly incarcerated people and non-college bound people to become bike mechanics as part of their initiative, Bike Path, offering a stable job with competitive pay and benefits. All of the most recent graduates have all since been hired by CitiBike.
It also has many other free and low-cost programs, including COVID relief, elder support, pre-college programs with Pratt Institute, and more.
"The main goal is to maximize the use of local resources," Marcus said. "One Community is a response to the observation that Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are extremely well-resourced neighborhoods, but many people here are living with the reality of poverty. We want to bring these two parts together."
Free Wheelin' is a neighborhood effort. Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership coordinated bike trips and Bike New York provided instructors. A dozen neighbors, including big-box store Target, donated two-wheelers in good shape.
With a bike, young people have more independence and access to the city. All of the Free Wheelin' bike tours go to some destination in the city that's fun and exciting, Marcus said. The camp's next bike trip is to Domino Park, in Williamsburg.
"The lesson of the tours is that the city is at your disposal -- with a bike you have a new level of freedom."
In the fall, One Community plans to facilitate bicycling clubs for past and current participants to promote community and growing their skills as bicyclists and independent city explorers.
"The hands-on experience has been amazing," Tiffany Sadiq, a ninth-grader in the program, said. "It gives me a lot of motivation to be more active, it gives me motivation to explore. An opportunity for communities like this is really great."
Sadiq said she is most excited to bike around Cortelyou, and is saving some of the money she earned in the program for her college fund and some new shoes for the school year.
To donate a teen- or adult-sized bike, visit the One Community website.