#DoPublicGood is a project highlighting people or organizations that do good by bike. Each month we’ll be shining a spotlight on those who enrich their community through their two-wheeled advocacy. If you have a nominee for #DoPublicGood, please let us know in the comments and if selected we’ll send you both a PUBLIC gift certificate.
We’re taking part too. Follow our Instagram Story (@publicbikes) each Thursday as we bike-courier food from a restaurant to shelter in San Francisco, CA.
In Volume 5 of #DoPublicGood, we interview Cindy Ahola, Vice President of Operations at Good Karma Bikes in San Jose, California. Good Karma Bikes is aptly named, it’s a full-service, second-hand bike shop whose proceeds support under-resourced youth, low-income families and the homeless. Read on for our full Q&A with Cindy to learn more about the inspiring work done by Good Karma Bikes.
“We believe bicycles provide an ability to make a living, to be independent, and to make contributions to your world.”
– Cindy Ahola
PUBLIC: Please describe what Good Karma Bikes is all about?
Cindy: Good Karma Bikes is a nonprofit social enterprise. We are a full-service, second-hand bike shop that’s open to the public. Our revenue supports programs serving low income families, homeless individuals, and under-resourced young people, with a special focus on the support and education of former foster youth.
We started in 2009 as a mobile operation fixing bikes for free at shelters, soup kitchens and encampments. In 2013, the social enterprise was born and the sale of bicycles supported expanded free services for our clients. In 2014, we recognized a common factor among the clients we were serving — many of them had been in the foster care system. It was then we knew we had to add a new focus: prevention.
We serve and enhance our community by offering safe, reliable transportation with refurbished bicycles kept from the landfill. Today, not only do we continue to provide the same services we established at the very beginning, but we also work toward preventing the very issues our current clients confront; homelessness, incarceration, insufficient education and more.
PUBLIC: Talk to us about your College Outreach & Opportunity Program?
Cindy: 70% of California inmates are wards of court or were in foster care, and nationally 50% of the homeless population spent time in foster care.* In our two-year program, former foster youth move from feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable to becoming self-sufficient, confident, and productive members of society.
Youth receive intensive two-year case management, both in-house and with our partners. As part of this program, youth are stably housed, trained in bike mechanics and retail, work in our shop, attend life skills seminars, prepare for and attend college, volunteer in the community, and become mentors to new youth entering the program.
PUBLIC: Please describe how your Bike Voucher Program works?
Cindy: Good Karma Bikes has several programs whereby low-income individuals can acquire a bicycle at low or no cost. Our most popular program is our Work-To-Earn Bicycle Program. Any individual can volunteer for six hours at Good Karma Bikes and earn a $100 bicycle. While they work, the bicycle fitting their needs is refurbished by another volunteer. Upon completion of required hours, they can ride away on their “new” bicycle. We’re proud of the fact that so many continue on to volunteer, even after they’ve earned their bicycle.
PUBLIC: Can you highlight a few examples of people your program has helped?
Cindy: Many of our Work-To-Earn volunteers and Free Repair Clinic clients are low-income and homeless individuals who have jobs and rely on bicycles as their primary transportation. A missed day of work can mean the difference between keeping that job and losing it. Having a reliable mode of transportation each day means one more day of success. A volunteer recently shared how important it was for him to know he could “get up and go to a job and be something each day.”
Some of our Work-To-Earn volunteers feel they don’t add value to the world. As a volunteer, they can learn basic repairs and fix others’ bikes. Many tell us how glad they are to learn a useful skill and how good they feel doing something for others.
One of our program youth began two years ago shy, overweight, knew little about and rarely rode a bicycle. Less than one year in the program, he’d overhauled and upgraded his bike to the envy of all in the shop. He rode everywhere (even 20 miles to school), talked to people at red lights, lost weight, mentored new mechanics, and inspired his family and friends to ride. He even won Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s Commuter of the Year in 2016**. He’s since graduated the program and is in school full-time. This young man changed the course of his life with a bicycle.
We are privileged to work alongside so many people as they change their lives and the lives of others.
PUBLIC: In your words, why is the bicycle able to change lives?
Cindy: In order to survive in this world, you have to have transportation. We believe bicycles provide an ability to make a living — to be independent and to make contributions to your world.
PUBLIC: How can people get involved with Good Karma Bikes?
Cindy: All of our bicycles are donated. If you would like to donate a bicycle, we will gladly take yours and provide a complete overhaul and warranty for its new owner. Check our website for information and shop hours
We rely heavily on our amazing team of volunteers to make all this magic happen. And you don’t even need to be a bike mechanic! We can teach you that. Or come in and help us behind the scenes. If you’re interested in volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, we’d love to say hi and tell you more in person! Visit our shop at 460 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose or email us at email@example.com.
* California Senate Office of Research, December 2011 Policy Matters “State survey of California prisoners: What percentage of the state’s polled prison inmates Were once foster care children?”
*Foster Focus Online Magazine “Foster Care and Homelessness” By Shalita O’Neale.
**Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Connecting Our Communities, “Meet Silicon Valley’s 2016 Bicycle Commuters of the Year” by Carlos V., May 11, 2016