After Meg Rapelye earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California and moved to Washington, D.C., in 2014, she found a cozy home at Phoenix Bikes, a nonprofit organization that blended two of her passions: service to youth and bicycling.
“I really enjoy how at Phoenix we use the bike as a tool towards learning other skills for life,” said Rapelye, now the executive director of Phoenix Bikes. “The bike is a bonus. Through the process of refurbishing the bike and being part of our program and giving back to the community, you learn a lot of other skills—grit, confidence, self-reliance, teamwork. That’s the stuff you can’t necessarily get from other programs.”
Earning Bikes, Learning Life Skills
Since its founding in March 2007, Phoenix Bikes has operated an after-school program that teaches D.C.-area kids ages 12-17 how to fix bicycles for donation. In the process of completing the 25-hour program, the youths earn their own bikes and learn the skills necessary to maintain it. Meanwhile, Phoenix Bikes also sells affordable, refurbished bicycles, repair services and spare parts to the general public and particularly to community members in need.
“We’ve given them the skills to make riding a form of transportation—for wellness, for recreation, for fun,” Rapelye said. “If they had been given the bike as a gift, we’ve seen all too often that the bike is just going to sit there if something breaks. ... These guys end up being mechanics for their family and their friends.”
The Big Move
The bike shop with a small budget and big heart is approaching a seminal moment in its 10-year history. After operating for several years in a cramped, converted concession stand at Barcroft Park donated by the county, the nonprofit will soon move to a new location less than a mile away at the Arlington Mill Community Center.
“We’re 10 years old and a humble, modest organization,” Rapelye said. “This is just a big move for us. We still have to sustain our operations ... and want the move to be seamless. We still need bike donations to come in, we want (people) to come here for service.”
As of early July 2017, the nonprofit has $136,000 of the $170,000 it needs to complete the move, which Rapelye wants to conduct this fall. To make the move successfully and expand operations, Phoenix Bikes will require more of the “three T’s”—time, talent and treasure.
Said Rapelye: “The time part is volunteering. The talent part is skilled volunteers—mechanics and anything to do with nonprofit management, people who can help us with a whole bunch of needs. We’re in a lifecycle of growth and we’re trying to get more sophisticated. And the treasure part includes bikes and monetary donations.”
Phoenix Bikes will host two major upcoming events that will require additional help from the community:
- Proceeds from the 4th Annual Kennan Garvey Memorial Ride, which takes place on Saturday, Aug. 5, will help fund the move to Arlington Mill. The ride is named for the late husband of county board member Libby Garvey, a benefactor of Phoenix Bikes. The ride starts at Phoenix Bikes at 7 a.m. with rides of varying lengths along the W&OD Trail.
- The Youth Bike Summit on Oct. 6-8, 2017 will gather hundreds of people in Arlington and Washington, D.C., to discuss using bicycling as a catalyst for positive social change. There will be a bike ride on the final day of the summit.
Phoenix Bikes 2016 At A Glance:
- 487 youths learned the basics of bike repair
- 102 youths earned their own bikes
- 67 bikes donated to community members in need
- 638 refurbished bikes sold
- 1,835 repairs made at an affordable rate
- 169 adult volunteers logged 2,918 service hours
- 59 youths cycled 4,226 miles during 39 recreational rides