The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Building Bikes:

Nonprofit provides eco-friendly transportation for local and global communities
Lucia Dumitrescu
Customers stroll through the crowded aisles of bikes at the non-profit store Working Bikes. Established in Chicago 25 years ago, their mission is to send bikes around the world in the hopes of making eco-friendly transportation available for communities , like in Africa and Latin America, that depend on it. Having volunteered there when she was in high school, Katie Clendenning, the service and learning coordinator, said “Working Bikes is a really interesting organization because I think they do a really good job of both thinking and working locally, and also thinking and working globally.”

A golden bell rings faintly as the door opens, the wooden staircase creaking with each ascending step. Friendly chatter, background music and the clank of gears create a soothing melody in the huge room illuminated by white lights. In every corner there are bikes: a small pink bicycle for children sits next to a thin blue racing one, while overhead, a brown bike with wooden baskets hangs from the ceiling. Volunteers are scattered throughout the room either teaching newcomers about bikes or fixing up gears as customers walk through the aisles. 

Since its establishment in October 1999, Working Bikes has shipped over 100,000 bicycles across the globe with the intention of making eco-friendly transportation sustainable for communities in need, and U-High students are helping. 

“Working Bikes is a bike store in Chicago that sells bikes, sends bikes internationally and nationally, and they donate bikes so people around the world have the opportunity to, essentially, get to places they originally couldn’t,” said Grishma Unadkat, a sophomore who currently volunteers there. 

The three-level building on the West Side is run mainly by volunteers from around Chicago, who take bikes that are donated in any condition from around the Midwest and refurbish them to be brand-new bikes or deconstruct them for parts. The bikes are then sold at an affordable price at the store along with parts and repair services, or shipped to Latin America and Africa. 

According to manager Colette Balas, Working Bikes was created 25 years ago by Lee Ravenscraft and his wife, Amy Little. 

“They noticed a lot of discarded bikes in alleys and scattered across the street, so Lee would go around in a pickup truck and scavenge abandoned bikes. He would salvage whatever he possibly could,” Ms. Balas said. 

Soon, Ms. Little and Mr. Ravenscraft had collected an excess of discarded bikes that they could no longer maintain. The idea for Working Bikes came to them after Ms. Little visited Central America and saw how important bikes were there to maintain communities, but also how inaccessible they were. They realized they could find a way to send the bikes they had gathered instead of throwing them away. 

From Ms. Little’s and Mr. Ravenscraft’s small actions came Working Bikes, which is now an established nonprofit organization that has hosted a variety of events in Chicago, including an upcoming 25th anniversary celebration. 

Their flexible working hours made it possible for Grishma to balance her extracurriculars, such as the water polo team, as well as ensuring that she gained credit for community service. 

“Working Bikes was a volunteer site that made it really easy to volunteer for them, and they had a great mission so I chose to work with them,” Grishma said. 

According to Katie Clendenning, U-High’s service learning coordinator, Working Bikes has not officially been on the school’s community service list in past years because it is located far from the school. 

However, that should not keep students from volunteering, notes Ms. Clendenning. As someone who worked there when she was in high school, she recommends more people to volunteer there because of its mission and easy application. 

“So many of our organizations are doing such good in the world,” she said, “and this one in particular does a really good job of both creating this local impact of teaching about bikes … and then also thinking globally.”

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About the Contributor
Lucia Dumitrescu
Lucia Dumitrescu, Reporter
Lucia Dumitrescu is a member of the Class of 2027. She began journalism in the 2023-24 school year as a ninth grader. Outside of journalism, Lucia is a member of Robotics and Science Olympiad. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing guitar, ice skating and tennis.

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