“The kids just kept showing up,” Noah Struthers, executive director of Second Cycle, explains from the back office of the nonprofit secondhand bike shop’s Hilltop home.
The answer comes in response to a question about Second Cycle’s evolution. What started as a few friends in a backyard off of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, “just kind of hanging out … and fixing our friends’ bikes, with a milk crate full of used parts,” as Struthers explains, has blossomed into a community nonprofit with a vision and philanthropic drive.
Increasingly, that purpose has involved helping Pierce County youth.
“When we first started, we were focused on equitable access to sustainable transportation for low-income adults,” Struthers continued. “We wanted to keep people rolling. But the kids just kept on hanging out, they kept wanting to get involved. And we’re like, ‘OK, there’s a need here. We’re feeling a need.’”
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In response, Second Cycle has launched several youth-focused initiatives.
When we first started, we were focused on equitable access to sustainable transportation for low-income adults. We wanted to keep people rolling. But the kids just kept on hanging out, they kept wanting to get involved. And we’re like, ‘OK, there’s a need here. We’re feeling a need.’
Noah Struthers, Second Cycle executive director
Take the free “earn-a-bike” program, which in the summer months allows kids — largely from Hilltop, Struthers says — to participate in a hands-on, eight-week learning opportunity that includes road safety instruction and the chance to take a bike down to its frame and then rebuild it. At the end of the program, the kids walk away with their own set of (donated) wheels.
The most recent example of Second Cycle’s growing dedication to youth programming is particularly impactful.
Most Sunday mornings find Second Cycle’s shop filled with kids involved with the Pierce County Juvenile Court Diversion Program. The idea is simple: Lowering youth criminal recidivism rates by engaging with community organizations and letting them do what they do best, while allowing kids to find a passion to help keep them out of trouble.
According to TJ Bohl, the administrator for Pierce County Juvenile Court, these are kids who’ve been caught up in the legal system for a variety of low-level offenses, like shoplifting or minor drug charges, what he describes as “court-involved kids.” As part of the diversion process, they’re given the chance to participate in a variety of community programs that have partnered with the Juvenile Court over the last decade, such as arts classes, or boat-building instruction, or a forthcoming skateboarding program.
It’s working, Bohl says — so well, in fact, that Juvenile Court has started using a similar approach for youth on probation. And, here, we see the results: In 2003, before the Pierce County Juvenile Court began aggressively partnering with community organizations and developed what he refers to as its “menu” of programs for kids caught up in the legal system, 31 percent of all the moderate- and high-risk kids who got off probation committed a felony within two years.
By 2013, that number had dropped to 14 percent.
“It’s a factor,” Bohl offers of the Juvenile Court’s partnerships with youth-minded organizations like Second Cycle. “We haven’t solved the world’s problems or anything, but we’re closing the gap on re-offenses.”
The offerings at Second Cycle, like most things the shop is associated with, blossomed organically. It started last summer, after officials from Pierce County’s Juvenile just happened to visit the shop and were impressed by what they saw — an environment where community, self-sufficiency and a love of cycling was fostered.
It certainly did fill a void for us, because we didn’t have a program exactly like it. We went out to visit, and we immediately knew that this was kind of a special place. … It kind of jumped out at us, and we just thought, ‘Wow, we have to connect with this.’
TJ Bohl, Pierce County Juvenile Court administrator
“It certainly did fill a void for us, because we didn’t have a program exactly like it,” Bohl said. “We went out to visit, and we immediately knew that this was kind of a special place. … It kind of jumped out at us, and we just thought, ‘Wow, we have to connect with this.’ ”
Soon after, Second Cycle launched what at this point is described as a pilot program, where four-week sessions involve six to eight kids at a time, providing basic instruction on everything from bicycle anatomy like brakes and gears and fixing flat tires to broader theories of mechanical advantage and leverage. Teamwork is often incorporated, and Struthers says a powerful “group dynamic” quickly emerges in the classes.
Based on the early results, it was a wise decision. The kids are taking to it, says Struthers and Bohl. While the average completion rate of other Juvenile Court diversion programs hovers around 70 percent, Bohl says, so far Second Cycle’s pilot program is averaging “closer to 90 to 100 percent.” It’s been such a success that Second Cycle’s youth program may soon be expanded to those on probation, Bohl says.
“The kids are getting their hands onto old parts, and it sparks some of their interest. They’re like, ‘This is a neat space. I like this organization, this community-minded place,’ ” Struthers tells me before heading back out to the shop, where even on a cold Monday morning cyclists are starting to trickle in.
“It just kind of has a cool factor.”