Life June 20, 2017

Social Change One Bike at a Time

Boise Bicycle Project’s efforts to build community

Jimmy Hallyburton believes bicycles can be life changing. 

Give a child from a low-income family a free bike and help them connect to other kids. Teach a female inmate to repair bikes and you empower her with new skills and open doors to a different community. And offer a safe space where refugees and the homeless can work on bikes alongside those more fortunate and help them all discover they have more in common than previously thought.

“If you didn’t come into our shop, your only experience with a refugee or homeless person may be seeing them walk down the street,” said Hallyburton, Boise Bicycle Project’s (BBP) executive director.

For nearly 10 years, the nonprofit bicycle cooperative has fostered Hallyburton’s vision of social change by taking donated bicycles, refurbishing them and either giving them to those in need or selling them at low cost.

BBP also provides mechanics and volunteers who teach classes and after-school programs on safety, how to fix flats and how to keep gears and brakes running smoothly. But most importantly, BBP is a gathering place that welcomes, connects and helps all people, regardless of their background or beliefs, Hallyburton said. He jokes that although his mechanics are not trained social workers, they often seem cast in that role. 

“We teach people to overcome obstacles,” he said, explaining that roadblocks include the lack of transportation, income and the isolation that comes from not being able to move about your community. 

In 2016, BBP gave away 370 bikes in its Christmas Kids Bike Giveaway and donated 60 more to nonprofit community partners. To date it has provided over 5,000 free bikes to children, many of whom have never had one. To get a bicycle, kids write letters and draw pictures of their dream bikes. 

“When kids get on a bike, there’s a smile that comes from the sense of freedom you get from a bike,” Hallyburton said.

BBP also offers voucher programs where adults or kids can do community service to earn a bike. 

Hallyburton says BBP wants to help create a unique sense of community and giving that defines Boise as a great place to live. “When you teach someone to do something different, the world opens up for them,” he said.

One latest example is Shifting Gears, BBP’s collaboration with the South Boise Women’s Correctional Facility. Two BBP staffers work with inmates each week teaching them to repair bikes. Each repaired bike goes to a child, and once each inmate has fixed 15 bikes, she gets a voucher for her own bicycle upon release.

Although the women leave the facility with skills that could get them jobs in bike shops, and their work helps BBP get bikes to those in need more quickly, Hallyburton said the program’s become much more than that.

When BBP first started Shifting Gears a little over a year ago, he expected the women would want to see a picture of what bike they’d get after release. Instead, they asked to see pictures of the kids who received the repaired bikes. Several of the women attended a BBP event where kids rode away with the bikes the women had repaired. They beamed with pride, knowing they’d been a part of it.

“It was if for the first time they felt a part of a community,” Hallyburtorn said. And their new skills gave them confidence, transportation, and freedom knowing they could fix their own kids’ bikes.

The nonprofit operates out of a bustling shop on Lusk Street near the Boise State University campus. There are 16 employees—six fulltime—and Hallyburton’s dog, Stanley, who works as a greeter, settling at your feet and leaning in for some serious petting.

Along with its after-school programs and classes, BBP rents workstations for people to repair bikes and sells used parts. The group also organizes community events like the Bikin’ 4 Lovin Ride, Kids Bike-A-Thon, Pedal 4 the People and Refugee Women on Wheels.

BBP is finishing a $230,000 shop remodel paid for by a 90-day fundraiser, where most donations came in $10 to $100 amounts, and bolstered with many hours of volunteer labor. The expansion adds an upstairs classroom and office, with meeting space to share with other nonprofits. That’s a long way from where the organization started in 2007, when Hallyburton and co-founder Brian Anderson began wrenching donated bikes in a studio apartment and an unheated Boise Rescue Mission space.

It was during those early days was when BBP board member Nancy Papé dropped off her kids’ old bikes and fell in love with the group’s mission.

“So many organizations are singular-focused,” she said. “But while Boise Bicycle Project is focused on the bike, it’s like the spokes on a wheel in how it reaches out. There are the bike giveaways, but we also go out into the community. And the way we help refugees and women is amazing. Refugees sometimes have no identification. So how can they get drivers licenses or get to a job?”

Hallyburton said Boise Bicycle Project was inspired by his childhood bike experiences in Eagle and Cascade and his and Anderson’s travels as wildland firefighters. Driving to fires, they noticed the communities that had their own identities, like Boise, always had people riding around on bikes.

“We want to make sure bicycling is part of Boise’s identity, like Treefort,” he said.

He focused a recent Tedx Boise talk on how bikes connect and build community.

“There’s this feeling of safety in numbers,” Hallyburton said. “That if a driver sees a person riding a bike it makes it safer for everyone riding that day. On days I go for a ride, I think about the 5,000 kids riding to school on our free bikes. Every one of those kids makes it safer for me, too.”

Breakout Box

Boise Bicycle Project Goals 2017

  • Get bikes to 750 kids through free and earn-a-bike programs, and put 1,000 adults on bikes through programs that eliminate income barriers.
  • Empower 3,000 adults with DIY bike repair skills.
  • Reach 1,000 people by expanding outreach of Mobile Bike Repair stops, increasing partnership with Safe Routes to School, and modeling new innovative programs after Shifting Gears.
  • Share conference/classroom space with other nonprofits to create a stronger collective vision for Boise.
  • As BBP is one of the Top 10 Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFB) in the U.S., help 10 other businesses per quarter become BFBs so that Boise can lead the country in the number of BFBs.
  • More classes, after-school programs and membership nights based on expanded space.
  • Collaborate with more bike shops and organizations and offer BBP’s model to other organizations and partnerships.
  • Send BBP’s first Female Apprenticeship Program graduate to the United Bicycle Institute.
  • Grow volunteer programs.
  • Work with government and community groups to make Boise a safer place to ride.
  • Create a Bike-in-Artist Program to increase partnership with arts community.
This article appears in the Issue of Territory Magazine.