Holyoke, Massachusetts is a former industrial city that suffers from disinvestment, poverty, and obesity like many other cities. In 2008, a small group of individuals came together to address these issues, forming the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council. In the summer of 2010, the council proposed creating a community bike shop that would offer free programming for community members on how to build, fix, and maintain bicycles. They hoped that the “Bike Shop” initiative would be a fun, effective way to address the issues of obesity, limited access to recreation, and the need for leadership / job skills development that they felt were most important to the community.
The initiative runs three major programs:
To date, these programs have served over 100 community members from Holyoke and neighboring cities in western Massachusetts, put 33 bikes on the road, and enrolled 20 individuals in the first ever Bicycle Mechanics Instructor training.
Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council - Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States
The Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council went through a three year assessment phase where the council conducted community questionnaires and hosted forums and dinners that enabled us to collect and prioritize community opinions on what issues were most important. During this phase we also reached out to potential partner organizations, collected information on what resources each could offer and where the council’s initiatives were mutually beneficial for each organization. Throughout this process the council maintained a steering committee which included representatives from non-profits and health organizations, community members, and youth.
After identifying the bike shop as an important initiative, the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council identified the Holyoke YMCA as a suitable lead agency to spearhead the effort. The YMCA along with the Bike Shop Citizens group led the project initiative and defined its goals through community forums and meetings. The mission is defined as developing and increasing community access to programming offering physical activity, youth empowerment, community leadership and job development. This mission aims to address issues of obesity, lack of access to recreation and lack of leadership/job skill development opportunities.
There were three major strategies we used to achieve our goals. First, we created the Earn-a-Bike program, which promoted physical activity while also encouraging a sense of responsibility; second, we instituted weekly bike rides, which promoted dual goals of physical activity and safety education; third, we implemented the Bicycle Mechanics Instructor training, which promoted the goal of increased leadership and job skills training.
In order to ensure maximum community involvement in this program, our group developed an informational outreach plan. In the middle of the summer (mid-July) we got together and developed a “bodega” outreach map. Local Bodegas are the primary convenience stores that micro-sections of the city population use. Bodegas were therefore placed for optimum outreach to the various micro-communities within the city. Together our group rode on bicycles throughout the city and placed informational pamphlets at checkout counters. With over 20 bodegas downtown and approximately 20 more throughout other areas of the city, we aimed to reach out to the widest group of community members possible.
During the implementation of our program, we made it a priority to track the numbers of community members participating, bicycles built, bicycles fixed and participants in our weekly rides. These tracking devices indicated the need for expanded programming. Along the way many adjustments were made, including a shift in the bike shop from a co-op format to an earn-a-bike program. Our evaluation also indicated a greater need for educational programming and in late September we held enrollment and began the first ever Bicycle Mechanics Instructor training. Overall our evaluation includes tracking numbers of participants, holding monthly meetings where we ask participants for their ideas on what is needed, and implementing new programs as they are needed.
Through the development of partnerships with local and global organizations, we have created a network of invested individuals and organizations that want to see these initiatives succeed. We partnered with “Bikes not Bombs” from Boston for technical assistance, and “Bikes and Smiles” for bicycle donations, as well as local police stations, universities, and community centers. The initiative’s ability to address a broad range of needs has created real community interest and investment in its success. Through our network of community members, organizations, agencies, businesses, government, and more we have created a strong network of support. Additionally, through careful program development we are poised to be self-sustaining through: 1.) Using the mechanics who have been trained in our classes as future administrators of our Earn-a-Bike program and, 2.) Increasing the number of local stakeholders involved in the program’s success.
Out of this initiative several major changes have been accomplished. The first is measured by the overwhelming growth of the program. The program began with 2 youth participants in July (2010) and grew exponentially, rising to over 45 participants by mid-August. In four months, 33 bicycles have been earned with 17 individuals still enrolled and more enrolling weekly. Secondly, the city government has pledged to work with the community, creating a citizen-government walking committee. Through this committee, citizens can voice their ideas directly to city planners and play an active role in grant submission for recreation infrastructure funding. The city has also pledged to help by developing more bike lanes. Finally, we look forward to graduating 20 bicycle mechanics instructors through our training in January. Overall through these programs we are steadily increasing the community’s capacity to access recreational opportunities and develop job and leadership skills while also fighting obesity.
Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council's Website: http://holyokefoodandfitness.org/
Holyoke YMCA's Website: http://www.holyokeymca.org/