BiCi Co. (Bicicletas y Comunidad) serves to promote youth and adult bicycle safety and increase the community’s mobility and access to jobs in the City of Hartford. The program, which is run through the Center for Latino Progress, offers many opportunities for community and youth engagement, including:
- Earn-a-Bike, a hands-on bicycle-based learning program for Hartford-area teens ages 13–19.
- Summer Youth Employment, a program that enables teens to complete a service learning program while learning about bicycle safety, Hartford history, and bike science.
- Women’s Committee (Belles of Bici Co.), a group formed to ensure that Harford women and girls have access to bicycles and can ride safely. Holding Women’s DIY Hours on Monday nights.
- Bicycles for Jobs Access, a client referral program that collaborates with local shelters and transition programs.
- Traffic Skills 101, periodic bicycle safety, skills, and special-topic courses.
- DIY Member Hours, which allow paid or equity members to work on their own bicycles.
- BIKELIFE – HARTFORD! , an annual bicycle safety education program in April that provides an upcycled bicycle to Hartford youth and teens who complete a bicycle safety course. Volunteers will be working all winter to get 100 bikes tuned up for BIKELIFE 2017.
Anthony Cherolis, the Youth Program Director for the Center for Latino Progress and Program Manager of BiCi Co., told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about how the program came to be and the importance of becoming a social enterprise.
PRICE: You founded BiCi Co. in the summer of 2015. How did you develop the idea?
CHEROLIS: I was at Pratt and Whitney for 14 years and joined the Center for Latino Progress as their Youth Program Coordinator early in 2015. My role was initially to run the college prep program. And then being a small nonprofit, you fill in wherever needed.
The Center for Latino Progress provides service learning projects and internships for teens through Capital Workforce Partners. In the summer of 2015 we were brainstorming ideas for good service learning projects.
I have a background as a league cycling instructor, teaching bike safety and repair skills. I’m also an experienced mechanic. When I lived in Champaign, IL, I spent three years on the steering committee for a cooperative bike shop. The idea of something bike-related started there.
Yanil Terón, the Center’s Executive Director, asked, “What can we do with the students with bikes—because we know they love them.”
It had been in the back of my head. There had already been some meetings among a group of folks in Hartford to see how a community bicycle shop or cooperative could be brought to fruition. I recognized the summer youth employment opportunity and I thought that could be part of those projects, but I wondered about a bigger-picture idea of a community bike workshop, so I proposed that.
Community bikes shops are a common form of social enterprise in other cities and they often have youth program components, recycle-a-bike-type of components, and other teaching components.
I gathered information about programs I was familiar with and I said: How about something like this—Hartford doesn’t have a bike shop. There’s a need for this.
And Yanil, who is also a recreational cyclist, saw it as an even larger opportunity that could involve job training. So in July of 2015 we started BiCi Co’s program to support the summer Youth Employment Program project and built a shop on the first floor of the same building that houses the Center and the Spanish American Merchant’s Association (SAMA). SAMA owns the building.
PRICE: How has the program evolved since then?
CHEROLIS: We began with the Summer Youth Employment program and we started some prototype do-it-yourself (DIY) member hours. We ran a crowdfunding campaign at the end of 2015 to get the membership aspect started. We also started a prototype Earn-a-Bike program.
PRICE: And you are working to make BiCi Co. a social enterprise.
CHEROLIS: Yes. The social enterprise aspect of BiCi Co. has three primary components: education and training, a community bicycle workshop, and plans for a Park Street storefront.
With regard to the storefront, right now, we've got our sales tax ID and a point of sale system. We’ve been doing sales during our DIY hours, but we’re waiting on space expansion (and grant funds to support that) to open the storefront aspect. At this point, the social enterprise aspect is gestational, but developing.
The biggest deal lately is that Hartford’s City Council adopted a Complete Streets ordinance. That plus the zoning Complete Streets chapter will reshape the city streets over the next three to five years with more focus on resident, walker, and bike rider safety.
PRICE: In what ways does BiCi Co. contribute to the overall community, enhance economic growth, and create jobs?
CHEROLIS: People who use active transportation tend to spend their money locally. We like to promote active transportation—walking, biking, and transit as part of the mode shift in Hartford to something that’s healthy and more financially efficient for people getting around the city.
It’s great for people who live in downtown apartments. It’s great for people who live in a rental in a neighborhood. And at the end of the day, they all have more money to spend at all businesses on economies that aren’t extractive. We see that as the larger picture.
PRICE: And how are bicycles a useful jobs access tool?
CHEROLIS: Bicycle use is a cost-effective and powerful tool to improve urban mobility and employment access. The big picture is mode share and putting money back into the economy because you’re not taking it out with a single-occupancy vehicle.
Riding a bicycle can give a larger range to anybody who is working or job searching. Instead of being restricted to a 1-mile radius their radius is 5 to 10 miles. Their access is that much better.
Jobs access is key and it ties back to the Center’s mission of serving the community and being a job training and job placement hub for the Latino community and the Park Street area.
CHEROLIS: We like to think so. We’re working on the framework for something where it’s a staged program. Where youth engage in something that may be initially unstructured, but they have opportunities to go take formal classes or be trained as a mechanic as they progress in experience. That opportunity for them to grow may be to join our college prep program.
We’ve also had some community members engaging us in a way that is directly impacting their economic development. They might not be employed, but they can come in, fix a bike, and sell it. And that makes all the difference in the world to them to help make ends meet. Our bikes for jobs access is an immediate tool for those that get referred to BiCi Co. and start using a bicycle to get to a new job.
PRICE: What does Hartford and your presence here mean to BiCi Co.?
CHEROLIS: We see ourselves as a node between Downtown and Park Street. BiCi Co. is connecting people from Park Street and our south end neighborhoods to those they may not have met before in a space where they both have a shared love. It also helps people who live a few blocks away explore new places, like a great breakfast joint that may not have been on their radar before. I think it’s important that we’re on Park Street and expanding horizons for everyone involved.
Learn more about BiCi Co. by visiting www.bicico.org.