Two bike-building projects give Kalamazoo-area kids new wheels

Yvonne Zipp | Kalamazoo Gazette | June 29, 2013

Bike Program
KALAMAZOO, MI – There are going to be more kids pedaling around Kalamazoo this weekend, thanks to two area projects.

On Friday, Western Michigan University’s Offices of Service Learning and Sustainability partnered with Lakeside Academy for the Building Bikes, Building Community project. On Thursday, Maestro teamed with Alfred E. Bike and the nonprofit Open Roads Bike Program to put 12 children on bikes.

Instead of trust falls, Maestro decided to go a different team-building route, said president Jen Randall.

“While watching our team members as they got to meet the kids they had just built bikes for was pretty memorable, the best part truly was seeing the faces of the kids when they came to collect their bikes,” she said.

On Friday afternoon, WMU students and Lakeside students worked in teams inside the Office of Sustainability’s bike workshop to add wheels, pedals and handlebars to the shiny blue frames clamped to the work tables. (The office offers two Open Shop Nights a week, where students, faculty and community members can get expert advice on bike repair and use the worktables and tools for free.)

Six area children got a brand-new Schwinn or Huffy, as well as a new helmet.

In fact, the bikes were so new, they were completed just minutes before the kids, who ranged in age from 7 to 11, walked through the doors.

In addition to offering free bicycles to area children, the project offered Lakeside students, most of whom have come through the legal system, a chance to give away something they had made with their own hands, explained Shawn Tenney, WMU’s service-learning director.

“Often, they have never given something away,” said Tenney. “There’s a lot of pride in that, as well as in having built something.”

WMU and Lakeside first partnered together on the bike-building project in October 2011.

“It was so well-received, we decided to do it again,” said Don Nitz, director of Lakeside, saying that the event helps his students build empathy, caring and respect. “It’s an opportunity for students to practice what they’re learning and get good feedback from people they don’t know.”

Volunteers’ skill levels ranged widely – with Lakeside definitely supplying more know-how.

“I grew up building bikes,” said Jacob, a Lakeside Academy student.

WMU student Amanda Nickerson, of South Haven, laughingly said she hadn’t ridden a bike in about 15 years. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said.

“I’ve never put a bike together before,” said WMU student Sheeda Jenkins, of Detroit, joking, “I’ve put air in my tires.”

Keiondre, one of the Lakeside students, said he had worked on bikes and skateboards and thought the project was a way to use his skills to help others.

For Keiondre, who came to Lakeside from Los Angeles, the project was a chance “to have the feeling of being back inside a community.”

The six bikes were presented with a drumroll and loud cheers and clapping from all the volunteers. The children, all of whom were nominated by the Boys and Girls Club for making a difference in their neighborhood, included: James Varnesdeel, Jason Lee, Naviah, Janiya Baracken, Deshawn Perry, Shauntaishah Lockett.

“I think it’s a really cool idea,” said Kevin Martini, who works in the Office of Sustainability and was one of two volunteer bike mechanics on hand to make sure that the wheels literally didn’t come off the project. (All of the bikes went through a safety check before being given to their intended child.) “It really touches on a lot of areas of need in the community.”

Martini was showing James Varnesdeel, a second-grader who attends Parchment Elementary, how the spokes on his new Schwinn flashed when the wheel spun.

“It’s cool to see them get excited about cycling at such a young age,” said Martini.

James tried out the new seat and pronounced it comfy. But the real test, he said, was going to be when he got the bike home to the big hill he loves to ride on.

Afterward, the volunteers said they were thrilled at the results of their work.

“It was spectacular,” said Gaige, one of the Lakeside students. “Definitely a new experience.”

“I couldn’t stop smiling,” said WMU student Amber Browning.

Preston L. Parish Supports  Positive Youth Programming  With a $100,000 Gift to the  Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo

At a time when funds are tight and the demand for its services are at an all-time high, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo are going into 2011 breathing a little easier.

Preston L. Parish has provided the Clubs with a $100,000 unrestricted gift to support programming over two years in the greater Kalamazoo area. Parish is a Kalamazoo area native who currently lives in mid-Michigan. Parish made the gift in honor of both his late mother, Suzanne Upjohn DeLano Parish, and the Boys & Girls Clubs’ long-time Chief Professional Officer, Bob Ezelle.

“The work that the Boys & Girls Clubs have done in Kalamazoo, particularly the Edison and North Side neighborhoods, has been nothing short of remarkable,” noted Parish. “Bob’s dedication to the Club over the span of more than three decades has resulted in betterment of countless lives.” In addition to serving the Boys & Girls Clubs, Ezelle has been a leader in other youth initiatives in the community, including the reduction of gang violence and crime.

Parish’s gift comes at a time when the Clubs are experiencing record daily attendance – nearly 250 school-age youth per day between its Lake Street and Douglass Units. The Clubs, which provide membership and all activities free of charge to youth, offer programs in education, arts, substance abuse prevention, life skills, character development, and fitness. Additionally, the Clubs offer family support workshops and operate a residential summer camp in Hastings.

“We appreciate Mr. Parish’s timely and generous gift,” said Ezelle. “The past two years have been extremely challenging, and this gift will allow us to continue to help enrich the lives of our Club members and their families.”

Jonathon Gruenke | Kalamazoo GazetteBoys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts new program meant to aid girls

by Stephanie Esters | Kalamazoo Gazette Thursday July 23, 2009, 11:38 AM

KALAMAZOO — As hairstylist Brandie Jackson shared the best ways to blow dry and moisturize hair, Kali Burnett responded with an almost constant rebuttal, saying the techniques would not work on her hair.

“You have a lot of complaints about your hair, but I’m gonna show you,” Jackson at one told the 18-year-old Burnett.

“I’m going to show Kali that her hair is OK,” she said.

Jackson on Wednesday was at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, on Lake Street, for the new Art Girls program, a collaboration between the Girls Club and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts that’s intended to teach girls skills to better themselves. It was developed from conversations between coordinators Mary Whalen, a photographer who works for the KIA, and Katy Lagoni, who works for the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“We really saw this as a chance to get ahold of girls,” Lagoni said.

The program, which started in mid-June and runs through August, meets three times a week. Besides learning about hairstyling, young women will create their own “girl guide” featuring drawings, poetry and writing and will take field trips to art-making venues.

Lagoni invited Jackson to make the presentation on hair care, styling and braiding. The stylist told the young women the best uses for varied brushes and combs and the effects they produce, and shared information about different hair-care products and techniques.

She talked, for example, about the differences between some thick oils traditionally applied to the scalp of some African-Americans and the lighter hair sheens.

“This is almost like frying chicken when you put it on your hair,” she said, holding up a jar of thick, green hair grease.

Jakiya Shaw, 17, a senior at Comstock High School, said she learned a lot Wednesday about taking better care of her hair, which on this day was in a French braid style.

“Now I know I’m not going to use grease anymore to flat-iron my hair,” she said.

Near the end of her presentation, Jackson had Burnett come forward to have her hair moisturized and styled.

“Now … you see the difference, the body,” Jackson said of Burnett’s new look.

“That’s pretty,” another of the young women remarked. “Looks like a perm.”

Contact Stephanie Esters at or 388-8554.


Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo are making SMART Moves.