Kelly Auer was just 10-years old when her passion for bikes was fueled by a broken axel. Some people might go out and purchase a new bike. Not Kelly. She took it apart and with the help of her father, they fixed it and she was back on her purple, banana seat Schwinn.
Creativity emerged at age 16 when she stripped and repainted her bike-black. Skip a head a few years and she's a professional bike racer, competing for Team Salsa. Several higher education degrees since and moves from Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska and Auer has landed here as Executive Director at Phoenix Bikes, a youth and community bike shop serving the community in and around Barcroft Park in Arlington, VA.
Phoenix Bikes empowers youth to become social entrepreneurs through direct participation with the nonprofit bike shop. This unique environment offers a chance for kids to learn teamwork, tap into their entrepreneurial juices, hone leadership skills . . . and cultivate a car-free generation.
"These kids are our future," said Aeur in a phone interview while walking her dog, Sprocket. "We're building from the ground up and teaching them how to navigate and use bikes in their everyday lives."
Auer, who has served as Executive Director since October 2010, admits this is a big change from her days as a public defender in Alaska. "I always feel at home with bicyclists and working with people who want to keep people on bikes.”
Phoenix Bikes, which has been featured on CNN, is growing. They recently acquired a couple of cargo bikes, which are designed to haul practically anything.
"We had a table at the Nauck Neighborhood Day and were able to take everything we needed---folding table, bike stand, tool box, and display case all on our cargo bike," said Auer who noted this as an example of a car-free experience for the kids and also the organizers.
Growing pains are good and Phoenix Bikes has been so successful, they are literally busting at the seams. They recently launched a capital fund drive.
"We have a company that has offered to build," said Auer, "but we're looking for a location." With a bigger space they will be able to service more bikes but also expand programming opportunities. Partnering with more schools and sharing the Phoenix Bikes experience with more kids is the direction she is steering.
Car-Free Diet partners and any local business looking for ways to help their staff embrace the Car-Free Diet should check out the various opportunities to work with Phoenix Bikes. They host "First Thursday" of the month workshops and in August will have a Basic Bike Maintenance for Trail and Home" class. Sessions are usually from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.
For more details, visit: www.phoenixbikes.org.