Open Roads: Creating opportunities for Kalamazoo area youth
David Taylor was in and out of the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home for fighting and anger issues for a period of three years.
During that time, he said, he felt stuck.
Then he found a vehicle that put him on the right path.
“The bike is awesome! I still have it. It’s a BMX bike. I can’t fit it anymore, but it just reminds me of where I started,” Taylor said. “This was the beginning of something new, something different a change.”
Taylor build that bicycle himself.
He learned how to do it though an organization called Open Roads and its Earn-a-Bike program.
“We’re not about just coming in and telling them what we think they need to know,” said Erin Denay, executive director of the Open Roads Bike Program. “We want to make sure that whatever we’re coaching them on, they feel like it’s relevant for their lives.”
For six weeks, lessons disguised as tune-ups teach the youth life and social skills. They’re given the tools to become mechanics, able to turn metal parts and plastic pieces into a 10-speed bicycle while at the same time greasing the wheels for future success.
“I think if you sit down a group of teenage kids and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to teach you some social skills ’ It’s not that exciting, right?” Denay said. “You have to have something more incentivizing, and bikes are awesome vehicles for that because it symbolizes independence and self-sufficiency.”
“I feel like Open Roads guided me to see, like, hey, you’re not this person, you’re not a statistic, you are not a label," Taylor said. "You are whoever you want to be. You define yourself.”
A teen who once defined himself as shy and angry, Taylor, 20, is now a lead instructor for the program. He said he wanted to give back by helping the youth who remind him of who he once was and by serving as an example of who he knows they can become.
“I expect the kids that I work with to be better than me," Taylor said. "I want them to strive to aim higher than I did because I know that they are worth it.”
The Open Roads Bike Program works with several other area organizations as well to empower underserved youth. The organization welcomes any student in the greater Kalamazoo area, of any financial background.
To get involved, make a donation or to learn more, head to www.openroadsbike.org.