After helping keep the city of Tulsa’s vehicles roadworthy this semester, fixing up some faulty bicycles proved to be no problem for Union High School senior Criss Alvarado.
He and about 30 other students volunteered to spend Friday repairing about 110 donated bikes that will be given to elementary students in need this Christmas. They worked quickly in small groups to replace tires and tune brakes, taking over the Union distribution warehouse on 129th East Avenue near 61st Street in the process.
Alvarado lost track of how many bicycles he had completed an hour into this year’s Bikes for Kids project. Some he’d finish in five or six minutes.
“I’m already pretty well into mechanics,” he said, “so this is simple stuff.”
The aspiring truck mechanic, like many of the student volunteers, is interning at the city of Tulsa’s vehicle maintenance facility as part of Union Career Connect. The initiative provides high-schoolers with opportunities to explore a variety of careers, allowing them to receive specialized training and earn certifications before graduating.
The automotive interns work after school with city employees who maintain Tulsa’s fleet of trucks, cars, backhoes and other equipment.
Other volunteers, like senior Parker Lewis, are exploring manufacturing internships through Career Connect’s Certified Production Technician program.
Lewis said he signed up for Friday’s event due to his curiosity about how a bike works. He’s worked on them before with some success and appreciated the opportunity to build on that experience.
“The last time I tampered with a bike, the gears were messed up,” he said. “So I kind of just took it apart and put it back together.”
But showcasing his skills wasn’t the only reason Lewis volunteered to fix bicycles. He also looked forward to helping kids in need.
Lewis said he knows what it’s like to grow up without a working bike and wanted to prevent other kids from having to jump through the same hoops he did.
“Honestly, I think this is amazing,” he said. “For one, when it rains and their parents don’t have an opportunity to take them home, they’ll have a bike to help them get home faster. That’s a huge benefit.”
The completed bikes will be delivered to elementary students throughout Union Public Schools during the holiday season. Community members provided most of them, though several were donated by Walmart.
Although most of the high-schoolers who volunteered have experience working on more complex vehicles and machinery, the district provided them with specialized training last week to prepare them for the project.
The students felt especially motivated to put their all into the bicycle repairs. They wanted to provide for as many children as possible, said Jenny Flower, the district’s Career Connect coordinator.
“A lot of these students don’t necessarily come from privileged backgrounds,” Flower said. “For them to have a chance to know that they’re helping a little kid who may have had a similar experience as they have had — it means a lot to them.”
Stephanie Cameron of Tulsa-based AAON Inc., which sponsors the manufacturing program and the Bikes for Kids project, said it’s important for students to see how the skills they’re learning can help make a difference in people’s lives.
That kind of experience can inspire them to turn a hobby into a profession. With the ongoing skilled trade shortage across the country, Cameron stressed the need to bolster the workforce by encouraging students to consider jobs in manufacturing and auto repair.
“They can apply their mechanical aptitude to be able to help others in their community,” she said. “So that is the full service learning experience — to show value and purpose behind what they’re learning.”
Senior Jeremiah Harding, who also interns with the city of Tulsa, plans to study business in college next year and hopes to own his own shop someday. Although he’s always enjoyed working with tools, his recent experiences with Union Career Connect have allowed him to better appreciate his ability to help those who need it.
“I’ve always been looking out for people, caring for people,” Harding said. “I like that I can do that by moving wrenches. That’s what I do.”