Sunday, January 19, 2014

Prescott Teen Center Sheds Light on Starting a Social Bike Business Program

Last week I met with Courtney, one of the founders of The Launch Pad, a new teen center here in Prescott, Arizona. Barbara, a One Street volunteer who suggested the meeting, joined us. The three of us sat in the back corner of the center’s small low-ceilinged room in soft, homey chairs around a warm lamp centered on a kid-sized table. More comfy chairs, a few game tables and a kitchenette filled the rest of the space.

Bikes need a lot of space!
As I had steered my bicycle onto the back street and spotted the tiny bright orange building of the teen center, my heart had sunk with the realization that there was no room for any sort of bicycle program there. But as Courtney described their upcoming plans, my hope returned. She showed how their current location, while affordable was not serving the needs of even the dozen or so teens that attended each afternoon. Their mission revolves around creating a place where young people collaborate to create career opportunities and projects that benefit the community. Courtney noted that Social Bike Business fits perfectly. But in order to reach that high, they have to draw dozens if not hundreds of teens to engage in the center’s activities. Their tiny, bright orange building is just a stepping stone to much grander plans.

Courtney explained that all the partners they had approached so far, from school districts to business owners to city officials had expressed even more support than they had expected. These partners blurted out grand dreams of a massive building where multiple projects and classes could take place simultaneously. While Courtney and her fellow board members have been careful to take reasonable steps toward success, their partners seem ready to charge ahead full steam.

This brink between the frustrating first steps of starting an organization and its first leap into successful results can be a tantalizing yet dangerous mirage that swirls and shifts just out of reach. After a year of these partner discussions, the teen center has not received any significant funding or any commitment from a building owner yet. Without that larger space, they cannot approach any more schools and bring in the young folks they need to drive their programs, including bike programs.

Over the past six years since One Street launched our Social Bike Business program I have answered countless calls and emails from bike program leaders at this same frustrating stage of launching their program. The guidance I give is to not be dazzled by promises that do not include commitments and to only take the steps ahead that are certain. This doesn’t mean avoiding risks. Even the steps that seem certain bring risk. Rather, the leadership team’s job is to assess the sincerity of every offer, whether it be a donated building, a contribution of funding or an endorsement from city officials before focusing their limited time or resources in that direction.

With such a deluge of support as this new teen center is receiving there will certainly be substantive offers among the many vaporous offers to help. Courtney and her team are sorting them out and focusing their energy on developing relationships with those partners who are truly ready to help lift their vision into reality. The tough part will be showing appreciation to and keeping those other excited yet uncommitted folks under their wing so they can help later on. I hope to highlight some big leaps forward from Courtney and her team in later blog posts.

Are you at this frustrating stage of starting a bike program that provides appropriate bikes and careers to disadvantaged people? If so or if you’ve experienced similar frustration, please leave a comment with further tips for readers to get through it and onto the fun of results.

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