Building and fixing bikes in a workshop is teaching some Phoenix kids skills they can use to not only stay out of trouble, but to possibly get them excited about a future career.
Barrio Works is one of many programs offered by Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix. The campus, located at 1918 W. Van Buren St., has a church, a food and clothing bank, a preschool and many classrooms for programs like dancing, mentoring and a Wednesday night high school.
Barrio Works was originally started as Barrio Bikes in 2000. At the time a volunteer for Neighborhood Ministries, who happened to own a bike shop of his own, had an idea to start a shop to teach kids how to take care of their bikes or fix up old donated bikes. The shop also began to be used for woodworking and metalworking. Eventually, that volunteer had to return to running his own shop and the program struggled for some time until Chris Williams took it over officially in 2007.
Williams’ vision for the program was for it to be self-sustaining. Kids as young as 7 or 8 years old can work in the shop and earn a bike or parts for a bike. They learn how to take care of bikes and even learn how to build custom bikes, which are then sold from the shop to earn money for more supplies. The shop also fixes up donated bikes.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Eric Lira is a volunteer who works with kids in the shop. While he enjoys working on the bikes, his favorite activities are the ones he creates for the kids that teach them a little bit about what he does as an engineer. Lira works as an aerospace engineer for a company called Orbital Sciences.
“I make rockets,” he said. “We put NASA satellites in orbit and work on missile defense programs. I’ve been doing that for 25 years and I really enjoy that, so I like to put rocket projects together. We build all different types of rockets so kids can learn how to use the tools to cut things or screw things together, or nail things together. We try to teach them the science behind things.”
Lira said he enjoys the work not only because he’s sharing something he loves, but because the kids he’s sharing it with are always excited to be there.
“I grew up here in Arizona in the Hispanic culture,” Lira said. “What I’ve seen is the kids that live in inner-city and come from these disadvantaged homes, they don’t have the opportunities and a lot of times they don’t have a chance to be successful. As a matter of fact they’re almost doomed, I think, to just be part of a vicious cycle.
“I do it because I think the kids need people from the outside that are healthy and successful to show them a different way and to encourage them. The neighborhood ministries program, that’s what they do with all of their programs. They bring people in to work with the kids, encourage them, and show them that there is a better way. It also gives them something else to do.”
Neighborhood Ministries is always looking for more volunteers or donations. For more information, call Williams at (602) 889-1387 or visit www.nmaz.org.