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Farewell to 2023

As we say farewell to another remarkable year, we find ourselves reflecting on the incredible journey we’ve embarked on together. 

We want to take a moment to express our deepest gratitude to each and every one of you who has contributed to our cause. Your unwavering support, dedication, and passion have been the driving force behind the positive changes we’ve been able to achieve in the past twelve months.

Together we’ve been able to increase our student reach — with almost 40% more classes this year!  We have served 71 different groups of children and teens through Earn-A-Bike, Learn-To-Ride and Earn-A-Computer. With 23 of these free, in-depth courses taking place at partner locations, BWorks made important new connections in numerous neighborhoods around the bi-state region. 

These successes are not just statistics; they represent enriched lives, strengthened communities, and brighter futures. We continue to be dedicated to not only reaching more of our fellow citizens but also deepening our engagement to create enduring positive change. 

I continue to be impressed by our amazing volunteers and staff who daily go above and beyond for our families, be it providing more practice outside of class time, building adaptive equipment for kids with unique challenges, refining and expanding our curricula and more.

As we grow, maintaining our core values that define us becomes paramount. Growth should be a means to amplify our impact, not dilute the essence of who we are.  Preserving the spirit of inclusivity, transparency, and accountability that has been the foundation of BWorks is essential as we navigate the path forward. 

The coming year holds exciting possibilities, and we are confident that, with your continued support, we will reach even greater heights.

Thank you for being an integral part of our BWorks family. Together, we are making a real and lasting difference in St. Louis and the world.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Patrick

West End Community Center, a home for youth nonprofits.   

In 2025, the West End Community Center building will turn 100 years old. Within those 100 years, it hosted multi-cultural dances and cross-denominational partnerships in the 1930s. In the fifties, it housed St. Louis City’s first interracial arts center — People’s Art Center. More recently, the site was home to the Demetrious Johnson Foundation, hosting a myriad of community events and youth programs. Throughout its rich history, it has been a staple of the community, providing  enrichment to thousands of St. Louis residents.

The now empty halls echo with a century worth of stories, contributions, memories and positive impacts. The ballroom has seen weddings, parties, theater and community events of every shape and size. Its gym has had tens of thousands of residents step foot on its floor for formative experiences ranging from dances to sporting events. The classrooms once were a hub of skill building and educational growth for all of St. Louis’ residents regardless of their age, race or faith.   

As BWorks looks for a new home, we’ve started to evaluate the feasibility of spurring a rebirth of this now-empty city-owned cultural gem. This is an ambitious yet worthy dream: to create a shared space focused on empowering St. Louis’ children and teens through youth nonprofits.

This is a large project. But every big dream starts somewhere, and we believe our team and other youth nonprofits can rise to this challenge, especially if our city leaders walk alongside us.

Currently, this significant property is gathering dust. And right now, many of our youth are encountering new challenges and risks in our post-pandemic world. We could do big things at this location, and we are on a quest for the right partners to join us.

If this dream is something you are interested in helping make happen, please reach out to patrick@bworks.org. Let’s work together and do big, impactful things for St. Louis’ young people! Surely there is no better investment for our city to make than one that will have long-term positive effects on their lives.

BWorks has been partnering with other nonprofits such as the Village Bicycle Project for decades now to find great homes for some of the bicycles donated to BWorks. The bicycles we donate to these groups are mechanically in good shape but might be overbuilt for even St. Louis’ pothole-riddled streets — or just don’t fit our needs for local students for one reason or another. 

Here are a few of the student stories from Sierra Leone, where young people recently earned refurbished sets of wheels from us. Each of these bicycles came from a container BWorks staff and volunteers loaded earlier this year.  (Read more below the pictures)

Eighteen-year-old Memunatu B. Kamara lives in a remote village called Katick within Masemira chiefdom. She always woke up very early in the morning to walk an extremely long distance — 14 miles round trip — to attend school each day. Spending a total of about six hours on the road, she was often late for school. Memunatu lost her father a few years ago and lives with an older family member who depends on subsistence farming to survive. In the midst of these struggles, Memunatu still has the courage to achieve her goals. Her dream is to become a nurse, but a lack of access to resources has made it difficult for her to pursue her dreams. Memunatu is thrilled, as evidenced by the smile on her face, to receive a bicycle. She’s now determined to never be late for school, and to let nothing stop her from pursuing success.

Abdul Kanu. He lives in a remote village called Magbenthor and is a student at Saint Anthony Of Padua Secondary School Masemira. Abdul, 18, recently received a bicycle from the Village Bicycle Project. He used to walk a total of 16 miles to and from school, taking him a full six hours a day as he sought access to the only secondary school in the community. He’s passionate about becoming a lawyer, and with the energy he can now save while pursuing his education, his academic performance will surely benefit. Abdul was happy to receive a bicycle because of how it helps connect him to his dream for the future.  

Adamsay J. Bangura is an instructor at the Saint Anthony Of Padua Secondary School Masemira. She lives in a remote village called Rofothaneh, nearly four miles away from the school. A community teacher and head of the department of home economics, she recently received a bicycle from the Village Bicycle Project, which allows her to significantly reduce the amount of time she spends getting to and from work. She is very passionate about her job and about helping her students regularly ace the BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) 

examination and go on to big things.

For Adamsay M. Kargbo, 13, having a bicycle is a huge deal: it’s the first time she’s owned one.  And while Adamsay has two brothers and three sisters eager to enjoy the bike as well, she prizes her new possession as her daily ride to school. Sometimes she will allow her father to borrow it to take to the farm, and so it’s been helpful to him as well. Having a bicycle also allows Adamsay to sleep later, knowing she has a bicycle to more quickly get herself to school in time for its 8 a.m. start.

Idrissa M. Conteh, 16, is excited to benefit from owning his first-ever bicycle. He says he and his sister, who both attend the same school, will both benefit from the new set of wheels. Idrissa is urging the Village Bicycle Project to send more bikes, as he and his sister are far from alone in covering many, many miles on foot to get to school on a daily basis.

Sixteen-year-old Hassanatu S. Turay used to have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. each day just to get to school by 8 a.m. But now that she has her very first bicycle, the 12 miles she needs to cover will go a lot faster and easier. Sibling to four sisters and three brothers, Hassanatu is sharing the bike with a brother who attends the same school as she does.

About three months ago, at the age of 17, Abdul A. Koroma learned to ride on two wheels. His motivation for doing so? Hearing that the Village Bicycle Project opportunity was headed to his school. The youngest of three siblings, he’s the only one using his bicycle to go to school — and is also using his new wheels to get to the market to buy food for the whole family.

Fifteen-year-old Osman A.Turay is now the proud owner of his very first bicycle. He and one of his two brothers will both make use of it as they attend the same school. They used to walk a total of four miles most days in order to access their lessons, with their mother paying for a motorbike on certain days as well. This will be a welcome change for the boys, and the whole family.

Q&A with Julia Kirpalani, BWorks’ first-ever summer intern

This week, we’re taking a moment to congratulate our summer intern, Julia Kirpalani, on a wonderful season of work with us. A rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis, Julia connected with us several months ago through her involvement with the Pershing Fellows program. She jumped right into an intensive summer internship with us, eagerly assisting with all sorts of projects as well as youth classes.

No matter the task at hand, or the weather, Julia proved to be an enthusiastic and indispensable member of our team this summer. We can’t wait to see where her next chapters take her.

She recently sat down to answer a few questions from us and reflect a bit … take a read! 

We were so delighted to have you working with us this summer, as our first-ever intern. What stood out to you about St. Louis BWorks from the get-go?

I liked BWorks for how ambitious it is and how well it executes all of its goals. I am constantly amazed by how much our small team can accomplish, from coding, to refurbishing computers, to reconstructing bikes and so much more. BWorks is well integrated into many pockets of the St. Louis community, and I love that we offer opportunities to every kind of kid. 

Can you talk a little bit about some of the activities and projects you most enjoyed tackling and contributing to?

Frankly, I’ve loved getting my hands dirty in the shop. I hadn’t really worked with bikes before coming to BWorks (other than fixing a bike brake with three hair ties in high school), so this has been an awesome learning experience (and also a humbling one). BWorks has really neat projects in the works, including some new alumni rides. I’ve enjoyed researching potential routes in the area and riding with my supervisor Evie around St. Louis. Besides these roles, I have been assisting with Learn-to-Ride and Earn-A-Bike classes, analyzing our social media, brainstorming new marketing strategies, creating a framework for the BWorks Youth Council for Street Safety, and researching potential partnerships for our expansion into a new building.

What surprised you most, looking back on the summer?

I thought I would just be teaching kids how to ride bikes, but bike riding is much more confidence than mechanics. My job is primarily to instill confidence in the kids we work with — technique follows naturally. I was surprised to see how much these classes can mean to the kids that we teach.

What came easy, and what was hard?

I have worked with kids for the past four summers at Scout camp, so I was relatively used to how chaotic some classes can get. I have also taught classes in the past relating to camping, hiking, and backpacking, so I felt decently comfortable presenting to students.

There were definitely many challenges that came along with this job. I am about to enter my third year of undergrad at WashU, but I am originally from Long Island, New York. Before this summer, I was not well acquainted with St. Louis beyond the UCity area. Getting to some of our offsite BWorks classes was sometimes challenging, as well as planning bike routes on roads I hadn’t really traveled before. I also struggled with not being an expert when I was supposed to be a leader. In many circumstances, especially toward the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know much more about bikes than some of our 8-year-olds. I learned to simultaneously play the role of student and teacher this summer.

Is there one particular moment that you can describe that kind of encapsulates the magic of BWorks in your view?

It’s always a special moment when it all just clicks, and in the blink of an eye a non-rider is suddenly zooming around the parking lot with the biggest grin on their face. I remember working with a 10-year-old who struggled to keep both feet on the pedals because she was afraid of losing her balance. Whenever the left foot pedaled, we yelled “push!,” and whenever the right foot pedaled we yelled “power!” Later that day, we had a continuous succession of “push” and “power” and she rode around feeling freer than ever. I was so, so proud of her and so grateful to witness such a milestone.

What do you see as some of the opportunities and challenges for the organization in the future?

The organization can grow in so many ways. I wholeheartedly believe in our curriculum, and I believe that we could share our curriculum with other biking nonprofit organizations to enable kids around the country with the same skills and competencies as BWorks students. I am looking forward to the organization expanding to a new facility, where we will be able to host more students (and bikes!). 

What may be challenging is that the BWorks core team is relatively small, which makes expansion limited to the capacities of our team. While we have many instructors, there may come a point where BWorks will need to expand our administrative team to keep up with all that we can do.

How do you think your time with BWorks relates to some of your interests and pursuits as you look toward your own future chapters?

I am studying a combined Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology major, with a double minor in Environmental Studies and German. I, like many BWorks staffers, have many disparate interests that are difficult to confine to one box. My job relates to my major in that I work with many different people, some more outgoing than others. As an assistant instructor, it’s my job to approach situations with empathy and facilitate an environment where every student feels heard. Some students have ADHD, anxiety, or autism, all of which I am studying at my university. Understanding how these conditions affect students and eliminating deterrents from learning are both crucial elements in creating a well-functioning classroom.

Is there anything else you’d like to share as you reflect on your great work with us these past two months?

This has been an experience of massive growth and I am proud to have interned for such an admirable organization. I want to thank Patrick, Quorey, Betsy, and Mike for taking me under their wing and teaching me valuable skills for the organization. And, a very special shoutout to my supervisor Evie for working closely with me and being there for all of my BWorks milestones.

We’d be remiss not to shout out the Pershing Fellows organization for making all of this possible in the first place. Can you close by talking a little bit about what you think sets the Pershing Fellows apart here in St. Louis?

This is the first year of the Pershing Fellowship in Nonprofit Leadership. There are ten fellows from WashU and seven fellows from Saint Louis University. Each of us were selected via four essay prompts, two letters of recommendation, and two rounds of interviews. Upon receiving the fellowship, we committed to the ten-week program, which entails working closely with a St. Louis nonprofit (via a matching process) and attending weekly professional development meetings, where the fellows visited other St. Louis nonprofits, received public speaking training, and even toured some St. Louis neighborhoods. The Pershing Fellowship is a $10,000 grant.

The fellows that I work with are some of the brightest minds I have met in my college career, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the connections I have made. I am blown away by my colleagues’ resilience and outspokenness about the issues they are driven to fix. We have had meaningful conversations on Community-Based Action Plans, St. Louis’ history of systemic racism, the housing crisis in St. Louis, gun violence, and more. The fellows do not back down from a challenge, and we are committed to making St. Louis a more equitable and serene place.