Table of Contents


Introduction & Recycle-A-Bicycle: The New York Model

Laying the foundation

Project Definition

Organizational Structure


Nuts and Bolts

The Bicycle Collection Network

Curriculum Content

Public Relations

Finding the Funds

Safety, Quality Control, and Liability

Last Words

Resource Directory & Bibliography

Appendix I - Financial and administrative information

Appendix II - Forms and Materials used by RAB [1 MB]

The Authors

Thank yous

Tools for Life: 
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs


Have you ever walked along a New York City street on garbage night? If you haven't, it's like going to a flea market. It's a bit less organized and you might need to sift through some real garbage to find a treasure, but the point is that many good things are needlessly thrown away. It is, after all, an unfortunate side-effect of the American way. Our economic system encourages us to consume. Consequently, furniture, clothes, appliances, and bicycles are all heaved onto the sidewalk because they are cheaper to replace than to fix. Sharp-eyed scavengers can always find good bargains on the street but the majority of these items are not salvaged. Most end up in landfills, which are already overfilled and suffer from leaching and toxic material runoff. Our excessive consumption is not only wasteful, it is endangering our environment.

Have you ever walked into a classroom where the students are excited about their work? If you haven't, it's because educators face greater obstacles than ever before. Young minds are barraged by negative influences, but teachers are expected to maintain high expectations for performance and create meaningful experiences that build skills and values. Violence is rampant in many areas, but teachers are expected to create a safe learning environment for children that demands respect and tolerance for people different than themselves. Lastly, teachers are expected to involve families and communities, the very same ones that are growing ever more splintered. There are educators today who are developing and teaching curricula that offer hands-on activities relevant to our times, but many classrooms are falling short in one or more of these areas.

What is the connection between the two seemingly unrelated social issues of waste management and education? Transportation Alternatives (TA) believes that it is the bicycle. In 1994, TA inaugurated its youth environmental education program, Recycle-A-Bicycle, to make this connection a reality. In the workshop/classroom, Recycle-A-Bicycle ("RAB" from here on in) examines real environmental problems, teaches the technical skills needed to help solve them, and offers concrete rewards to the participants.

The meaning of RAB varies to different people. If you ask the students, it is simply fun. If you ask the instructors, it is both environmental education and direct action. If you ask the parents of the students, RAB's best gift to them is a metaphorical set of "tools for life."

In the short time since its inception, TA. has received many requests for information about RAB. Rather than see other groups try to "reinvent the wheel," TA decided to put together this manual. We hope it will en- courage the emergence of RAB-like programs across the United States. With each new youth bicycle recycling program, greater numbers of youth will receive an environmental education that directly increases their activism. This will result in an educated population that will assume leadership on environmental issues in future years. Along the way, we also want to attract the support of parents and other members of the community who might not otherwise find time for environmental concerns.

Recycle-A-Bicycle: The New York Model

RAB is not the first program of its kind. There are at least 20 organizations scattered across North America that collect used bicycles, teach youths how to repair them, and put them back into the community (see Resource Directory for a list of them). What makes RAB special is its size,-it's the largest in the U.S., as far as we know-its scope, and the fact that we work in the public school system. As of December, 1995, RAB has four active sites in the New York City area and is on the verge of opening a fifth. We've been fortunate enough to receive start-up and support funds from groups as disparate as the Office of the Manhattan Borough President (Ruth Messinger), the New York City Department of Sanitation, The Children's Aid Society, Liz Claiborne Inc., and many more (see appendix).

Washington Heights

The first and largest of our sites was inaugurated in May of 1994 at Intermediate School 218, a new facility in Washington Heights, an area in the north end of Manhattan populated mainly by immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I.S. 218 (also known as Salome Urena de Henriquez) is a "Community School," i.e., a project run in tandem by the New York City Board of Education and the Children's Aid Society. Its mission is to be more than a school: it was designed as a center around which the community (one of the densest in Manhattan) can revolve. An example of I.S. 218's greater vision of service is the on-premises medical clinic that provides students with regular check-ups.

The school's highest priority after education is keeping kids off the streets. It does this by providing extensive after-school and summertime programs. The innovative nature of I.S. 218, the enthusiasm of its staff, the presence of C.A.S., and the existence of a viable shop facility all helped make it an ideal place for our pilot project.

At the time of this writing, there are 102 kids in 6 RAB classes at I.S. 218. The total number of kids trained in 1995 is 242. The ages range from 10 to 13, but RAB has had teen-age volunteers since the beginning. Some of these have come from the Washington Heights area, while other teens have come from City as School, a special NYC-run high school that places at-risk students in actual work environments rather than class- rooms. In the past year, I.S. 218 had 7 such "interns" from City As School.

In 1995, I.S. 218 collected 398 bikes and recycled 277 of them. Some were sold or given away to other institutions; others were distributed through our Eam-A-Bike program (more about that later on).

East Harlem

Our second site. Public School 109 in East Harlem, was first conceived when Larry Held, a teacher at the school heard about RAB. He immediately became a TA member and approached the school's principal, Ms. Iraida Hada, about starting a branch there. RAB at P.S. 109 was designed from the onset to be a project on a smaller scale. The school had a spare classroom to devote to RAB, but the students were much younger (7 to 10 years) and the facilities did not lend themselves to the extensive recycling done at I.S. 218. Nevertheless, East Harlem has been a definite success. By December of 1995, 73 students of the school had taken the course, and 42 bicycles were recycled.

Brooklyn 1 (Williamsburgh)

In early 1995, Ira Perelson, a teacher at Eastern District High School, visited I.S. 218 with a group of teens from his school. They had come to pick up a handful of bikes that RAB was donating to their local Outward Bound chapter. When Ira's students saw children much smaller than themselves busily working away in a fully outfitted shop, they asked him if it were possible for them to have one, too. Struck by their interest Ira knew he had stumbled onto something. In the next few weeks he single-handedly raised $200 to purchase a stripped-down set of bicycle tools and began an after-school project in a basement room that was formerly devoted to automotive repair (to diehard T.A. members, that's progress!). Since the inception of this project, RAB director Karen Overton has helped raise an additional $1500 from Bike-Aid, a college-level student organization that generates funds by bike touring. Ira also raised another $500 from the NYC school board fund and $100 from the Tannen Family Foundation.

Approximately 25 students have been involved in the Williamsburgh RAB to date, all of them teen-agers. For a time, the tools had to be passed from hand to hand, but the spirit was always joyful. The group is the only one among RAB's sites that sponsors organized rides. In many cases, the final destination of the ride is a community service project.

Brooklyn 2 (Park Slope)

The smallest of our projects is housed in the Park Slope Mini- School. It is unique among our sites because of the nature of its kids: they are all Special Education students. It's an after-school program built by Vince Canziani, who is the director of the Mini-School and also works with Good Shepherd Services, and TA member Richard Cusimano, who serves as a volunteer instructor/mechanic. It began in the Fall of 1995 with a start-up grant of $500 awarded by the Park Slope Civic Council. It's held twice a week and there are currently 12 students enrolled in the program. The kids range from 11 to 14 years of age, and are all emotionally handicapped. By January of 1996, they collected 24 bikes. The school has also been given a $500 grant by the NYC Board of Education to support a bicycle business as an experiential learning program.

At the present time, we have just been awarded funds by cosmetic maker Liz Claiborne for a fifth RAB location. The focus of this latest venture will be to develop entrepreneurial skills in teens through the recycling of bikes. TA is currently shopping for a new partner organization with which to begin this new site.

Each of our active RAB sites serves a different population and age group. Each also represents our project at a different level of development. The funding ranges from ample to non-existent, but all four have succeeded in what they hoped to accomplish, and all four continue to grow. Throughout this report we will refer to examples drawn from I.S. 218 and its sister projects in the hope that you will find parallels to your own situation.

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