Kristin Gavin has seen the improvement in front of her eyes. The atmosphere inside ‘The Bikery,” located at Fifth and South streets, was light and full of enthusiasm on a humid Friday morning in mid- June. When most people were off shuffling to another lazy Friday at the office, there were already hands getting busy inside the bike shop.
Seven women in the Gearing Up program circled around two bicycles that were to be stripped and used for parts. Of the chains, handlebars and brakes taken off of older bikes, most of them would find their way attached to a new bicycle. After members of Gearing Up ride 100 miles with the group, they can start to build their own refurbished bike home to keep after six weeks of more training..
Gavin said she admits seeing the smiling faces of women once held down by addiction and various unsettling situations, who now can build something positive for themselves, is a special thing.
“This part of the program allows for the women to take ownership of something. When they finish the program after riding however many miles they ride, they get to keep the bicycle and have something to do to keep them moving forward,” Gavin said.
Gavin started Gearing Up in 2009. It is a program designed to help women in transition from drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and homelessness experience personal growth from the seat of a bicycle.
Every woman in the program has a special story. Gwen Hardeman, a former drug addict, recently received the Gearing Up Bicycle Ambassador award for her commitment to biking and service. She and the other women were preparing for a 25-mile ride toward Wildwood, N. J.
“I’m very excited,” Hardeman said, “I’ve never ridden that long before, so it’ll be interesting. I’ll just keep thinking about sitting at the beach the entire time. That’s what’s going to get me through that ride.”
The women watched intently and took quizzes from instructor David Bevacqua of Neighborhood Bike Works on the different parts of the bikes they would be removing. Several of them simply could not wait to start using the tools available to them to start building something of their own.
“The bike gives you freedom. It makes you feel good,” Nicole Mattis said, “I cannot wait until I can ride [my own bike] out of here.”
For now, the women will continue to strip the parts and begin building toward a new bike. In the process, they will also be rebuilding their lives. They have the support of the other women in the program and Gavin’s unwavering belief.