Tinker, Tinker Little Bike
Thomas Kennedy, better known to his friends as TK, likes to fix things. Trained as a mechanical engineer, TK is no stranger to tinkering in the shop and figuring out how things work. A customer project engineer for ComEd, TK is also an avid cyclist who has found a way to combine his two passions to help students at DePaul College Prep learn new skills.
TK volunteers his time teaching high school students how to fix bicycles as members of the DePaul College Prep Fixies Club. The club meets during the school year at DePaul College Prep, 3633 N California Ave., in Chicago.
“My goal is to give the kids a rewarding experience that’s more about showing up and fixing bikes,” he says. “I also want to teach them how to ride safely, make new discoveries in their community, and learn about the cost-savings and the health benefits that bicycles can provide.”
TK’s idea for the Fixies Club was born late last year when he and his colleagues toured DePaul College Prep in response to a request for volunteers. While touring the school, he saw the school’s “STEAM Lab,” which is a wing dedicated to hands-on teaching in a variety of areas including wood-working, media production and engineering. During the tour, administrators also mentioned that many students have been riding their bikes to school on a new bike lane.
Why not combine hands-on-teaching to students who like bikes?
Based on his past volunteer experience, TK knew what type of space he needed and how it would need to be set up. ComEd provided a grant for tools, and local bike shops have helped to source additional specialty tools and the stands for four bikes.
The Fixies Club received a dozen bikes donated by Working Bikes, a bicycle non-profit in Chicago. TK plans to use the bikes to teach the students basic maintenance and loan them out to those who don’t have bikes of their own.
The Fixies Club members meet at the school and have already overhauled their first bicycle.
“The bicycle is a powerful tool that appeals to people for many different reasons, such as transportation, recreation, fitness and competition,” TK says. “The bicycle is a social and economic equalizer.”
TK says he loves riding his bike around the city – so much so that he sold his vehicle back in 2012. He also likes volunteering his time and fixing bicycles, so his club combines the best of both worlds.
The Fixies Club is working to get the word out about the program, and TK hopes warmer weather will drum up interest and increase participation. TK also hopes the group will help increase awareness among adults, including ComEd employees, that bicycles are a great and viable option for getting around town.
The Fixies Club meets at DePaul College Prep on Tuesday afternoons during the school year. To volunteer for the 2016-2017 school year, please contact TK at firstname.lastname@example.org.