Tools for Life:
A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs
Going it alone
Most existing bicycle education projects are housed under
not-for-profit organizations. RAB was conceived from within
Transportation Alternatives, a larger organization that has been in
existence for over two decades. As the project came to life, we added to
our organizational recipe by forming a new partnership with the
Children's Aid Society. Later on, we formed more alliances with NYC
schools to start our other sites. The cooperation and support of other
groups and individuals is what made RAB's rapid growth possible.
You, however, may decide that your project should be self-contained.
This may be the way to go for an individual or a small group with
limited time and resources.
It might begin as a class for the neighborhood. With a basic tool box
and a few kids who own bikes, you can begin a repair class at a
playground or in someone's garage. If there is space, you can collect
unwanted bikes and work with kids who want to fix them up for
themselves. Once everyone has a safe bike, you may begin organizing
group rides. These activities are spontaneous and generally reflect the
skills and amount of time that the organizers have available.
At some point, you might want to expand beyond the neighborhood. The
word will get out and other people will be interested in bringing your
program to their kids. The garage and the toolbox are no longer enough.
How best to grow?
Remaining independent is very attractive. You call the shots; you
select the kids; you determine the goals. There are some drawbacks,
however. Acquiring not-for-profit status for a new organization is a
long and intricate process. Among other things, you need to have a Board
of Directors who are obligated to be financially responsible for your
There is also the question of credibility. If you stay a lone wolf,
it can take some time before you convince potential donors (not to
mention a community) of the integrity and worth of your program.
Some projects have succeeded in this. The Bicycle Action Project in
Indianapolis got its start when the founder, Charles Hammond, noticed
some discarded bikes in front of a house. He approached the woman who
lived inside, told her that he'd like to fix up the bikes for kids and
before he knew it, found himself the subject of a newspaper article.
Thrust into the position of a project director, he rose to the occasion
and created BAP. Today the project (one of the oldest in the country) is
an independent not-for-profit organization with its own board of
If you want to go it alone, a number of books in our bibliography can
provide you with the details of founding a not-for-profit organization.
Alliances with other Organizations
There is another way to make the leap into official status: approach
a group whose mission incorporates the goals of a bicycle education
project. An existing organization has a structure in place that you may
tap into to expedite the start-up process. Their help may enable you to
do things like advertise the program, cover the costs of liability, and
give tax exemptions to people who make donations. An organization may be
convinced to dedicate resources towards the formulation of the project's
design and implementation. They may also devote staff time or recruit
volunteers from its membership base. Even the use of a photocopy machine
can be a substantial contribution.
The staff of an organization may also offer valuable skills that are
lacking in your own operation. Word processing, desktop publishing,
illustration, public relations, and photography are all talents that may
be available through your parent or partner group.
Organizations offer a framework through which administration, program
development, implementation, and financial support are offered. Bike
education projects may be housed in community-based organizations, youth
service organizations, churches, schools, bicycle clubs and advocacy
groups. Some projects choose to remain small while others become
incorporated as a not-for-profit or find sponsorship under the auspices
of an existing organization.
If you decide to follow this course of action, you must shop around
for the right organization. Do your homework before approaching a group;
know the mission of the organization, its strengths and weaknesses, and
how its programs are perceived in the community. You should be in the
position of choosing the organization which best meets the needs of your
program. It is also useful to find someone who can make an introduction
to an appropriate person already within the organization. Once this has
been achieved, schedule a meeting with several potential partners.
Always arrive prepared: have a plan, make a concrete proposal, and be
ready to negotiate an institutional arrangement.
The neighborhood that you're serving is often the best place to find
resources. Ask individuals and groups in the community to help you
strengthen the project by offering their expertise in the areas that you
are weak in or unfamiliar with. People enjoy making a contribution to
their community and are willing to help if there is a clear "wish
list" of material donations or volunteer tasks that they can choose
from. Be prepared for the time when people ask, "What can I
do?" and don't be bashful about approaching people for assistance.
Never forget that "it's for the kids" can be the most powerful
phrase at your disposal.
A community can be divided into three sectors: business, government,
and not-for-profit. All of them are potential supporters. Local
businesses might be approached to donate cash or materials for the
project. A bike shop might donate helmets, a bakery might offer
refreshments, and a bank might award a neighborhood grant. Develop
contacts with the various local media, as they will be important in
making people aware of your project and its needs (see Public
City and state governments might be approached in order to access
community funds. For example, salaries might be raised through programs
that deal with crime prevention, after-school services, or employment
training. Supplies to fix bikes might come from a local recycling
Not-for-profit organizations may be asked to provide certain elements
of the project. A local bike club may supply ride leaders and mechanics
while a youth service organization may recruit kids and provide space
for educational activities and bike storage.
The options to explore are unlimited. Personal contacts are often
your best lead in setting up alliances with organizations that share
your enthusiasm for the project. As you set up your community network,
ask the children and parents you'll work with to get involved. Not only
does this get more people to back you up, it gives them a sense of
proprietorship. Pride usually follows in short order.
When working with other organizations it is important to define the
role of each and to follow up on agreements made with them. Be
responsible in implementing agreements. Every opportunity must be taken
to thank the organizations and individuals who have donated their time
or money to the project. Do so in writing if possible. Experience shows
that an efficient "thank you" system will build up good will
in the community which, in turn, will be recycled back into your