Almost every day after school, Nicholas Turner heads to the Latin American Youth Center’s Riverdale branch to work on his homework and, in turn, get a chance to repair and ride bicycles.
Nicholas, 13, is among more than a dozen middle and high school-age youths who participate in the center’s bike shop program each year, through which they repair and restore donated bikes and ride and keep the bikes they have fixed, said Luisa Montero, director of the Maryland branch of LAYC, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit youth development agency.
Its focus is on bicycle repairs, but the program is more specifically aimed at reaching and assisting youth, Montero said.
“The bikes are a very attractive hook to get these youths interested and have them interested in our other programs,” she said. “While we have them, we’re also working on their academic skills, helping them with their homework and providing some job-readiness skills.”
The center partners with members of AmeriCorps to operate the bike and other programs, such as those focused on nutrition and sports, LAYC program specialist Renee Griffith said. AmeriCorps is a federally funded program aimed at civic education and public service.
In addition, students from the University of Maryland volunteer their time to help teach the program, Griffith said, adding that the university also donates bikes and equipment.
The center is not far from his home in Riverdale, Nicholas said, adding that he enjoys being in the program.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I like that we get to ride the bikes after we fix them.”
The bike program, which began about two years ago, recently received a donation of about 50 bicycles from the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Gang Unit, which, Montero said, has a long relationship with the center.
The donated bicycles were collected over a period of about three months from the department’s six districts by patrol officers, who received calls about abandoned bicycles and recovered stolen property, said Sgt. George Norris of the Gang Unit.
The bikes either are donated or sent to a county auction if they are unclaimed after 90 days, department spokesman Henry Tippett said. He added that the department makes every effort to locate the owners before giving the bikes away.
The donation is “the police department’s way of giving back to the community and assisting local youths with after-school program activities,” Tippett said.
Norris said he and the other officers in the Gang Unit work with the Latin American Youth Center and other youth organizations to assist with gang prevention and intervention, which is how the department became aware of the bike program.
Gang involvement “is an issue that not only plagues Latino youths, but all youths, throughout the county, region, state, country and other countries,” Norris said. He added that the unit will continue to donate bicycles to the organization as needed and as the bikes are obtained and go unclaimed.
Steven Mendez, 19, led the program last year. He said that students do everything from patching tires to fixing spokes and repairing chains.
“They really learn how to do everything there is to do with bike repair,” he said.
Tomas Alvarez, 18, an AmeriCorps member and leader of this year’s program, is a former program recipient. The program, he said, provides youths with a great way to unwind.
“I really enjoy working with the kids,” the Riverdale resident said. “We usually go and ride to a nearby lake. The program gives them energy to burn off, and it’s just fun.”