For Good: WellBuilt Bikes grooms next generation for careers

Over the past several years, WellBuilt Bikes has been on a mission to ensure that every person who needs a bike is able to own one. Now, they’re taking on another project -- teaching a new generation the ins and outs of running a bike shop.

Through separate partnerships with Pepin Academies and Eckerd Connects, teens and young adults are getting hands-on training on everything from bike repair to customer service from the team of experts at WellBuilt Bikes.

“We’re learning so much,” says WellBuilt Bikes CEO Jon Dengler. “We definitely want these partnerships to continue.”

WellBuilt Bikes was created in 2017 as a social enterprise arm for The Well, a nonprofit that seeks to provide community outreach and support for poor and homeless individuals. They opened a retail shop at University Mall in the Uptown District of North Tampa a year and a half ago where they refurbish bikes and sell them at affordable prices. Those who don’t have the money to purchase a bike can participate in their “Earn-A-Bike” program, which provides bikes in exchange for community service hours. Since they opened, they’ve rehabbed roughly 800 bikes, Dengler says.

Working with Pepin and Eckerd seemed like a natural next step for the community-minded nonprofit.

Last summer, Pepin Transitional, a vocational training and job readiness program for young adults with learning and learning-related disabilities, began sending students to work at the bike shop. Dengler says they currently have five students who work with them two days a week. Accompanied by a job coach, some of the participants are learning how to do bike tune-ups while others focus on running the storefront.

“It’s been an exciting process and a really cool partnership,” says Dengler.

He’s also excited about the newest collaboration between WellBuilt Bikes and Pepin Academies. Earlier this spring, after meeting the school’s Careers teacher, Ryan Morton, Dengler and his team created a replica of the bike shop in a classroom at the school’s Tampa campus. Morton is now teaching his students the basics of bike construction and repair, and Dengler is hopeful this exposure will get the students interested in working with bikes in the future.

“Their team is crushing it,” he says of the staff at Pepin. “I’m hoping the students will self-select to partner with us as they enter the Transitional program, and they’ll come in ready to roll.”

The partnership with Eckerd Connects is different than the ones with Pepin, but with a similar goal -- to help young people learn the life and career skills they need to be successful.

Through the Eckerd Connects Paxen’s Employment Pathways Collaborative, people between the ages of 18-24 who have had prior involvement in the judicial system are provided with ongoing support, job readiness training, and job placement services. So far, WellBuilt Bikes has taken on more than a dozen program participants since opening its doors. It’s a win-win because the program pays its participants out of its own budget, and WellBuilt Bikes gets the benefit of having additional staffing -- something the nonprofit needs as it grows.

There have been some success stories and some setbacks among the people he’s hired through the program, says Dengler, who understands the challenges of working with people who come from difficult circumstances. However, Dengler is committed to his continued support of those trying to create a better future for themselves, whether they come to work for him someday or choose another path.

“It’s my dream to create opportunities for people who need them,” he says. “It feels right in a lot of ways -- it feels hopeful.”

For more information on WellBuilt Bikes, including how to donate a bike, visit their website by clicking here.

Read more articles by Jaymi Butler.

Jaymi Butler is a writer and editor who enjoys telling the stories of growth and innovation in the Tampa Bay Area, which she has called home since 2003. A former reporter for the Savannah Morning News, The State, and The Tampa Tribune, she has covered a variety of topics ranging from business to features to public health -- and she even got to sit in on an American Idol audition just feet away from Simon Cowell!
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