Q&A: Preston Flaherty, manager
DreamBikes is a nonprofit, community-based bike shop that provides employment, job training, tutoring and career mentoring to area teens, sells bikes to pay for the teens’ salaries, provides free bike-repair services to kids in low-income neighborhoods, and organizes community biking events. DreamBikes was started in Madison, Wis., in 2008 by the president of Trek Bicycle Corp. but it has since become an independent nonprofit. This year, it is expanding outside Wisconsin to three locations, including Knoxville. The Knoxville DreamBikes opened using profits from other DreamBikes locations, but it is expected to become self-sustaining.
The local shop officially opened last week and is employing six teens (an even mix of girls and boys) recommended by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley. Through the YouthForce program, they will work internships refurbishing bikes, helping customers, and learning bike maintenance and retail skills. Those that stick with it will job shadow and volunteer, receive help with applications to trade schools or college, and potentially even receive scholarship assistance.
DreamBikes manager Preston Flaherty is a Knoxville native who attended West High School for several years before moving to Bell Buckle, Tenn., and then Laramie, Wyo., where his family owns a Tennessee walking horse ranch. After earning his bachelor’s degree in landscape ecology and watershed management and working out west, he moved back here to take the job managing the new DreamBikes shop.
Why did you decide to leave behind some of the fun jobs you had out West to take such a different career path back in Knoxville?
I had been working as a guide in Yellowstone, a raft guide in Colorado, and I did some water-conservation work in Montana. I met a girl in Jackson and decided I wanted to do something I care about and help people, maybe get involved with outdoor rehabilitation with kids. I had been out west seven years and I thought, I need to go home and give it a shot. Knoxville is just so much cooler than it was. The outdoor scene is getting huge.
I talked with [Knoxville developer] David Dewhirst, a family friend, and he told me about this job. I want to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Doing this is an adventure I can feel good about.
Why was Knoxville chosen for the DreamBikes expansion? The only other new shops are in Rochester, N.Y., and just outside Chicago.
Knoxville was chosen because of everything that’s happening with Legacy Parks, the Urban Wilderness, and Ijams. But the real reason is when you pick a DreamBikes location, you have to pick one where there’s a need for it, where there are disadvantaged or at-risk teens. But also it needs to be a community that can give and is willing to give. So Knoxville is perfect for that, along with the biking community developing here.
It’s exciting. It’s a big leap, but it’s changed so many kids’ lives.
Are you an avid mountain biker? Is that part of what attracted you to the project?
I rode a bike to class every day in Wyoming. It’s great exercise and a great way to get out. But I’m not a bike geek. I have a passion for working with these kids, getting them out exploring on bikes and not having to pay for a car. That’s what’s great—we’re not putting out crappy bikes. We’re putting out commuter bikes people can rely on.
DreamBikes also takes its mission outside the shop, right? What will that look like?
We have the mobile bike-repair program, which is incredible. What we do is go into neighborhoods that are low-income with our truck. We take tires and tubes and brakes and fix kids’ bikes for free. There was this kid that got hit in Wisconsin by a bus because his bike didn’t have brakes, and this kind of came out of that. Maybe in a month we’ll start doing that once a weekend. We’ll announce ahead of time where we’ll be.
What other ways do you envision your mission in Knoxville being different from that of typical bike shops?
I’m trying to build this shop as a community, and I want people to feel welcome and comfortable here. The more volunteers that come in, the more it builds that community and helps this business flourish. I want us to do group rides for anyone in the community. The thing I want to be different from what other places already do is I don’t want group rides to be intimidating. Ours are to enjoy ourselves and get outside. We can ride to get ice cream or learn a greenway on a pretty day.
What’s your long-term goal for the shop and the kids you can employ?
We have a big shop, so I want to say 15 kids. But it’s not going to be any time soon. We really need bikes. We’re hoping after Christmas more people can dig their old bike out of the garage and donate it.
• DreamBikes provides employment, job training and career guidance to underprivileged teens.
• Other initiatives provide free kids’ bike repair in disadvantaged neighborhoods and community-building events like group rides.
How You Can Help
• Donate your old or damaged bike (or bike accessories) to them to refurbish and resell, with the profits paying the teen employees.
• Buy a refurbished bike or get your bike repaired at DreamBikes.
• Volunteer to help repair bikes, tutor the teen employees in their schoolwork, train them in bike repair or sales skills, lead easy group rides, or make bike-related art to display in the shop.
• Make a donation.
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S. Heather Duncan has won numerous awards for her feature writing and coverage of the environment, government, education, business and local history during her 15-year reporting career. Originally from Western North Carolina, Heather has worked for Radio Free Europe, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, and several daily newspapers. Heather spent almost a dozen years at The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., where she spent most of her time covering the environment or writing project-investigations that provoked changes such as new laws related to day care and the protection of environmentally-sensitive lands. You can reach Heather at email@example.com
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