Heraclitus is thought to have originated the expression, “Change is the only constant in life.” It certainly applies when trying to shepherd a young, 100% volunteer-run nonprofit through a global pandemic. With limited air circulation and a maximum occupancy of four in the shop, Wheelhouse took programming outside and into public spaces and onto partner organization sites. This has amplified Wheelhouse’s impact on outreach, riding, education, and meeting community needs for repairs and refurbished bikes.

Mission Days

Wheelhouse’s mission is simply stated as: Learn, Repair, Ride. Wheelhouse expands access to the knowledge and resources to increase people’s autonomy in meeting their bike-related goals and needs, regardless of their ability to pay. On a Mission Day, we don’t have to state our mission; it’s palpable. My favorite Mission Day was when a grandmother brought her 11-year-old granddaughter in to find a bike with training wheels so that she could learn to ride. I put her on the back of the tandem and did a few laps around the parking lot. Then, I took the pedals off a BMX so that she could use a bike her size as a balance bike. Half an hour later, she pedaled off — without training wheels. As she watched her pedal for the first time, her grandmother said it was a highlight of her life experience.

Our first pop-up repair ‘Get You Rolling’ event was at Tierra Vida in October 2020. It was a blustery Friday afternoon. We set up three repair stands in a sheltered spot and taught the kids and adults from the youth program how to repair flats. More and more community members came to us with bikes needing love. What was supposed to be a 2-hour event dragged on until the sun went down. Towards the end, the children we’d helped first were buzzing around us on their now-working bikes or helping others to repair their bikes. We repaired two dozen bikes, donated four more, and left the youth program equipped with the knowledge, tools, and parts to repair their own flats in future. After six months of isolation and uncertainty, this Mission Day refilled our cups and showed us how to succeed if COVID dragged on.

This spring, the Repair Committee formalized mobile toolkits and took programming to the community. There were Get You Rolling events in public parks and on sites hosted by partner organizations like Lakeview Mobile Home Park, where we fixed dozens of bikes. Taking resources to the dispersed locations of need is both more efficient and more effective. In September, Wheelhouse partnered with Lamb Weston, who provided a space for storage and work parties, volunteers, donated bikes, and money for parts and consumables. This partnership prepared almost 100 bikes to donate to families in Pasco in November. A partnership with Grace Church and Incarceration to Inspiration in July refurbished 50 bikes in a weekend. Our Trips for Kids Mid-Columbia chapter is working towards an online earn-a-bike class for 50 kids in partnership with FreeBikes4Kidz Yakima. These kinds of partnerships check off all of Wheelhouse’s mission goals: Learn (knowledge transfer), Repair (refurbishing bikes), and Ride (making bikes accessible to those who want them).

Moving into the mission

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of Wheelhouse Community Bike Shop was questioning how retail fit into the mission. Having a storefront creates a perception about Wheelhouse that our volunteers always have to reset. “Welcome to Wheelhouse. Have you been here before? Do you know what we do?” is my standard greeting for people walking in the door. We don’t sell spin towels (what even are those?), we won’t service your bike for you, we have never even seen a Di2 come through our doors and most of us wouldn’t know one if we saw it. We aren’t really a bike shop, which is why the sign says ‘Wheelhouse Bike Community’ instead.

Wheelhouse is a community of 300 past and present members, and hundreds more people who have donated bikes, parts, and time. There is no shortage of people who know a little about working on bikes and want to learn more while giving back to the community. Having to interface with customers, operate a register, and make sales is a major barrier to volunteer recruitment. The lease on the retail space at 218 W Kennewick Avenue expires at the end of January. Our board has decided that it’s time to find a location that is a better fit for what Wheelhouse is. A place where Mission Days are the norm, a place that is self-sustaining and where our first interaction with people isn’t resetting their expectations. We need a lot of help getting to that place by January 31, 2022. Will you help?

Wheelhouse needs you

Our community needs Wheelhouse. Wheelhouse needs you. Will you serve on the board starting in January 2022? Wheelhouse needs a diverse board of people who represent all facets of our community. In particular, the board needs people who are bilingual and people who can introduce Wheelhouse to community partners who will host events and recruit volunteers. Board members serve two-year terms, which means that members elect half the board every year. There are five at-large positions up for election at the next annual meeting with terms starting in January 2022. Whatever Wheelhouse means to you or your hopes and aspirations for Wheelhouse’s future, I’m calling on you to step up to help steer the organization. The current board members have vast institutional knowledge, and they are ready to transfer knowledge, advise, and mentor new board members.

For the next three months, Wheelhouse needs volunteers to help move to the next phase. There is a great deal of practical help needed to pack up and move the contents of 218 W Kennewick Avenue. Specific needs include:

  • Move committee members to help coordinate volunteers, plan at least one dispersal sale, and coordinate moving all the stuff
  • Volunteers for all of the moving-related activities, including packing and inventorying
  • Volunteers to help keep making Mission Days throughout the transition, including: Committee members for our Learn, Repair, and Ride Committees
  • Volunteers on duty to host non-retail shifts
  • People to sling wrenches on the bikes in the inventory to get them onto their next journey before the end of January

Wheelhouse will emerge stronger and more sustainable from this transition. How much Wheelhouse does in the future and which activities Wheelhouse prioritizes in the next phase depends on how many members, volunteers, and supporters step in to help now. The board sets the strategic objectives for the organization, but the committees oversee how those objectives are executed, and volunteers make them happen.

Please join Wheelhouse as a volunteer today. Email info@wheelhouse.bike and visit http://wheelhouse.bike/volunteerto register as a volunteer on the Volgistics volunteer portal.

Francesca Maier is a Wheelhouse board member and Trips for Kids Mid-Columbia Chapter Director.

[Learn more about Wheelhouse Bike Community at wheelhouse.bike]