Trips for Kids Charlotte was founded 18 years ago by three local residents who believe that empowerment can come from owning a bicycle, and that it plays a vital role for youth in the community. The organization was originally run by volunteers, and is now a supporting pillar of the neighborhood with a full-time staff. “Our mission as an organization is to provide transformative cycling experiences to underserved youth,” says Paula Fricke, Executive Director of Trips for Kids Charlotte.
Recycling more than 1,400 bikes last year alone, it’s easy to see the dramatic impact that Trips for Kids and the Re-Cyclery has had within the Charlotte community. As a chapter of a larger organization, they are now an international nonprofit with 75 chapters, including locations in Israel, Canada and Africa.
Trips for Kids realized early on that while children were enjoying scheduled group rides on the weekend, many of them didn’t ride at any other time because they could not afford a bike.
In response to that, the Earn-a-Bike program launched in 2006. The six-hour course covers maintenance, basic bike repair and safety. At “graduation,” students leave with a recycled bike, helmet and a lock to start exploring the city on their own.
“Our plan was always to start a recyclery, and once we had the Earn a Bike program, that became a priority,” Paula explains. “In 2007 we started what we now call the Charlotte Re-Cyclery. It is just like any other bike shop, except everything we have is recycled.”
The Re-Cyclery takes in donated bikes of any type and size. Once a bike comes into the shop, it’s sorted into one of three categories. If the bikes can easily be fixed or updated, they are repaired and used for Trips for Kids programming. Bikes that require a little more work, but are still in usable condition are donated to a local pastor who collects them to send to his tribe in Ghana. Once he has enough for a container, they are sent over to serve as transportation for children and adults. Lastly, bikes that are in major disrepair have salvageable parts removed to be used at the Re-Cyclery, and any scrap metal is sold and used to fund other programs.
“Every bike is recycled in one way or another,” says Paula. The official policy reads that Trips for Kids will take in bicycles that are “dusty not rusty,” but due to demand they won’t turn anything away.
How to Recycle Your Bike
Trips for Kids currently works with a group of Syrian refugees in the area. The director of the program was told that some of the refugee students were struggling in school and having a tough time adjusting. They were invited to join Trips for Kids, and since their involvement in the Earn-a-Bike and riding programs, the group has grown from 9 students to 19, and teachers are reporting an increase in self-esteem as they learn new skills.
"It's really been one of the most rewarding things. It's fantastic."
Paula Fricke | Trips for Kids Charlotte
Students who perform well in school participate in bike programming as a reward. Teachers nominate students to take part in ride-a-bike programs based on good grades, behavior and attendance.
Through the Earn-a-Bike Program, students aren’t limited to just participating in organized weekend rides. “These kids who were not able to ride now have the opportunity to explore Charlotte and get out in the parks on their own,” says Paula. “We are still helping them through our ride program, but now that they have their own bikes, they are doing it on their own.”