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Redeemer’s bike ministry rolling along

Mentors in the Venture North bike program are armed and ready with tools of their trade. Casey Pavek, second from left, wearing a blue apron, is educational services and service manager at Venture North. Photos provided by Redeemer Center for Life

The City of Minneapolis has been named the “number one bike-friendly city in America.” (Sorry, Portland; you are second.) Observers of the local urban scene will have noticed bikers everywhere — on the trails, in bike lanes, wherever it is safe to ride.

And bicycle shops abound in Minneapolis … except on the Northside.

North Minneapolis has rather inelegantly been described as the Twin Cities’ “bike dead zone.” That has created an opening for one Lutheran congregation — or, to be more precise, its neighborhood ministry — to launch a creative new youth program.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, on Glenwood Avenue in the Harrison Neighborhood, has been ministering to its section of Minneapolis for decades. In recent years Redeemer, with some energetic cheerleading from its lead pastor, the Rev. Kelly Chatman, has developed the Redeemer Center for Life. Its campus is across the street from the worship center.

Last fall the Center for Life added a bike ministry. Says the Rev. Marilu Thomas, the pastor at Redeemer who relates directly to the Center for Life, “We had five or six young men in the neighborhood who wanted to start a bike fix-it place. They set up in the basement of one of our apartments. Not long after that we got a ton of news coverage — from the commercial media and NPR. They were paying attention because we had just opened the only bike shop in North Minneapolis, an economically depressed part of the city.”

The center received a $350,000 grant to convert a building. Says Thomas, “We now have a retail operation. Our young people fix bikes. We sell coffee. There’s training for young bike mechanics.” The neighborhood kids in the program range from ages 14 to 23. Currently there are a half dozen in training. “They become their own ‘business machine,’” says Thomas. They’re earning anywhere from $15 to $40 an hour.

Some of the kids in the program wear shirts with the slogan printed on the back “Staffed by local geniuses.” That’s just one way the program helps youngsters build self-confidence and feel good about themselves and their work.

“We have classes showing how to build a bike, and then how to repair it,” Thomas explains. “We practice ‘cascade mentoring.’ For example, college kids, once mentored, mentor kids as young as elementary-school age.”

Bike enthusiasts of all ages can get a start at Redeemer Center for Life's bike shop.

“We had just opened the only bike shop in North Minneapolis, an economically depressed part of the city.”

So now anybody wanting to buy a skillfully reconditioned bicycle can pick up a set of wheels, help save the environment, and support some hard-working neighborhood youngsters, all at the same time. “It’s really exciting,” Thomas says. “This is the first new business in this neighborhood in many years.”

Got bike?

Nearly a dozen partner congregations support Redeemer congregation. Thomas hopes members of those congregations (most of which, but not all, are ELCA-related) will buy their bikes from Venture North Bike Walk  & Coffee, as the program is known.

“There are lots of bike shops in Minneapolis,” says Thomas. “They cater to advanced biking enthusiasts. We focus on people who want to get started biking. The bikes we prepare for sale are donated. Our kids refurbish them. If a youngster in our program sells a bike he refurbished, he gets 30 percent of the selling price.”

New bikes are priced in the $300 range and higher. Refurbished ones, all good and safe vehicles, are priced in the $80-$150 range.

“This is the time of year people clean out their garages,” says Thomas. “We hope they’ll think of us when they have a bike to donate. They don’t have to come from one of our partner congregations. Anybody who reads Metro Lutheran and wants to donate a bike can call us.” (The number for donations is 612/377-4476.)

Thomas came to her present position after following an unusual academic path. Ordained in 2010, she earned what is called a “dual degree” — a masters in Social Work from Augsburg College and a masters in Divinity from Luther Seminary. With training like that, she was uniquely prepared for ministry at Redeemer. While Chatman serves the congregation full-time, Thomas’ call is to shared ministry — part-time at Redeemer and part-time at the Center for Life. It’s turned out to be a good fit for her.

Founded in 1999, Redeemer’s Center for Life grew out of a desire to address three needs the congregation identified: job growth, attainable housing, and youth development. There is an after-school program for kids, a community space called “The Living Room,” and the coffee shop. In addition there is a housing and transition program for youth in need of short-term living space and summer camps for children and youth in the Harrison neighborhood. The bike mentoring program joins these already thriving programs.

More information about Redeemer’s Center for Life, including how to donate (or purchase) a bicycle — and information about what kinds of bikes the Center can use — is available at either of two websites: http://redeemercenter.org and http://venturenorthbwc.org.

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