A Year in Review
A year ago (!), I jumped full-fledged into directing Village Wrench. This post is a letter to those who have faithfully, financially, and prayerfully supported me. The format of a blog post worked better than an email or Mailchimp, so while it’s not directed toward my general blog readers*, you can get an insider’s scoop too.
This past year has been a whirlwind of personal and professional growth, as well as focused community development, relationship-building, and ministry. Not to mention thousands of bicycle repairs. As we head into autumn, I am overwhelmingly encouraged by the seeds sown and the harvest we are beginning to reap.
Thirteen months ago, Village Wrench providentially fell into my lap, and my gratitude still runs just as deep, fueled by your support. As we grow, I carry a deep sense of responsibility to continue to steward resources well, expand impact further, and share our story better.
Which is one of the reasons I’m writing — I hope you peruse the monthly newsletter and keep up with us on social media, but apart from those updates, I want to thank you, the people who love me and support a cause I’m passionate about. Your generosity is making the “re-launch” of Village Wrench feasible. As you read on, my hope is that you are assured that there has been a good return on your investment.
Here are some quick stats: Nine months into the year, 74 community members have earned bicycles, compared to 19 in 2018. Last spring I taught two 6-Cycle classes to 14 students, two of whom, Eli and Gabe, now work in the shop. In the first weeks of their new job in June, they helped facilitate 6-Cycle summer camps to about 60 at-risk students at three middle schools. We recently hired a second mechanic, Brian, and added a closed-shop repair day to keep up with ticket orders.
Amidst drastic improvement in all facets of VW operations this past year, there are particular components that stand out as noteworthy developments:
The greatest thing about Village Wrench is that it is truly a community effort — a village, as our name implies. I depend heavily on the help of the mechanics, youth apprentices, advisory board, all-in volunteers, and executive/operations directors to make everyday happenings and future vision a reality. I have teammates all around me, and together we focus on the bicycle as a platform for people to know and love each other and God. “Fix bikes, make friends,” our motto goes.
When I stepped into this job last fall, I knew the current mechanic would be moving soon; it’s pretty challenging to run a bike shop without a bike mechanic. In December, I hired Drake, who has been such a blessing. Not only is he great at fixing bicycles, teaching the youth apprentices, and rolling with the unpredictability of any given day at the workshop, but he really enjoys working with community members. Along with running his own mobile repair van business, Sweet Tea Cycles, he drives from Clemson three times a week because he believes in and wants to be part of our mission.
Drake and Joseph, who learned how to fix a flat when he visited the shop. | Part of my A-Team this past summer — Eli, Furman Intern Caroline, and Gabe.
All of the neighborhood free repair sites are awesome, but I’m self-admittedly biased toward Sans Souci and what my Village Church family has got going on. Luke, the site lead, loves riding and fixing bikes more than anyone else I know. He has taken total ownership over this site, and the volunteer crew is equally committed. Every first Saturday, neighborhood kids play in the yard, the hospitality team serves up hotdogs and lemonade, and the less social bike mechanics wrench away. Regulars like Clifford always show up, and they know they have a family who will embrace them.
Luke and Miriam, two of my favorite people in Greenville, volunteering at the Sans Souci site.
The workshop serves as a literal bridge where people from all backgrounds in Greenville are welcome:
- Cyclist gurus donate their old bike and parts
- A homeless man learns to repair his own bicycle, which he relies on as his main means of transportation
- Volunteer mechanics use their repair talents to honor that man and dignify his two wheels
- An adolescent in 6-Cycle learns more about character and bike-building while also experiencing the attention of a caring mentor
- A recent college grad buys an affordable road bike to commute sustainably
- Kids practice hard work by serving their community and earning bicycles
- The regulars, who stop by for bike repair sometimes, but more often to say hello and enjoy the air conditioning for a little while
13 kids who earned bikes this past summer with Reaching Our Youth Upstate. | Damazio, who has a different job, hairstyle, and bike to fix every time I see him, but always the same heart of gold.
The physical space at the workshop has been totally transformed, too. When I walk in now, I can exhale. It feels good. Organized. Graphics, pictures, signs, and flyers communicate who we are and what we do. We don’t have tons of space, but most everything has a designated place. In business, aesthetics matter; it communicates style, branding, cleanliness, and efficiency — or lack thereof. Organization is an uphill battle, but making the shop space welcoming and reputable has involved lots of small improvement projects I have really enjoyed taking on.
Learning some bike repair, rewriting the 6-Cycle curriculum, and facilitating the class last spring definitely challenged me. This summer, trying to run three 6-Cycle camps at three different schools stretched us wayyy too thin. Live and learn. I was at a feeder to the high school where I used to teach, and I had shudder-worthy déjà vu moments to behavior management challenges back then.
BUT, I still love the kids, especially the relationships that begin to form as you earn each others’ trust. It is rewarding to give students the chance to have their own bicycle by learning and practicing bike- and character-building. Riding with them is even better.
One girl kept to herself during class time, and timidly approached me afterwards, informing me she didn’t know how to ride a bike. When the group began riding around school, we headed to the parking lot, asphalt baking us in the afternoon sun. I ran alongside her, my hand steadying the small of her back, and taught her to ride a bike! In truth, she picked it up pretty quickly. I really just helped her get her balance and the feel for bike momentum. Still, it was far more thrilling than trying to teach someone how to write an essay.
Thank you for helping me ride my bike yesterday. I never though I would be able to even sit on the bike. I am truly grateful I got to try and ride without falling. And I would also like to thank you for not letting me fall. I can’t wait to keep learning and improve my bike riding skills. I now am learning how to do a new skill that I never would have tried if not for you. Thank you.Practicing gratitude, one of the 6-Cycle character strengths.
Nurturing What Has Grown
I was at a nonprofit leadership conference last month, and we did one exercise where we chose a picture that we felt spoke to our leadership style and circumstances. I selected dirty, rough hands carefully holding ripe tomatoes.
Considering all the developments highlighted above and the programs that make up Village Wrench (Earn-a-Bike, First Saturdays, 6-Cycle, and the workshop), I feel like I metaphorically inherited a plant that had already taken root. However, this past year, I dug in — tilling, weeding, pruning, and nurturing until fruit began to ripen. After a lot of ground work, I’m treasuring the first fruits.
*General Blog Reader: Want to give? Go to this link for details and choose the “Support Jessica” button. Though all donations go into the larger VW “pot,” I was tasked with support raising over half my salary with the start of this job, and monthly supporters committed to two years to get me off the ground while I develop other sustainable fundraising efforts for Village Wrench.