The Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation kicked off the second year of its BickerBikes summer youth program on May 14. The innovative program is geared toward stimulating independence and self-esteem in participating youth, while also improving their health and fitness levels and providing them with marketable job skills in bicycle repair and maintenance.

“The event served two important functions,” said Dena Al-Khatib, program manager of the New Communities Program which partially sponsors BickerBikes. “To both get the word out about the summer program and to kick off its second year. We are quite happy we were able to offer it again.”

The event was attended by many of last year’s participants and their families. Meanwhile, a fix-a-bike station and representatives from local cycling groups, such as the “Rat Patrol,” a group of bicycle enthusiasts, talked to the children about bike repair.

BickerBikes is supported by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation/Chicago (LISC/Chicago), which focuses on rejuvenating communities and preserving the diversity of areas in the path of gentrification.

Bickerdike was named the lead agency of the New Coalition Program in Humboldt Park and, in this capacity, helped the development of a Quality of Life Plan for the neighborhood, bringing community stakeholders to the table to identify key community issues and develop a comprehensive plan to address them. The group identified the health and wellness of individuals, particularly youth, as one of the critical needs facing the community. Consequently, three major issues regarding community youth emerged?”lack of jobs and activities for youth, gang activity, and child obesity. From these perceived communal shortcomings, BickerBikes was born.

The BickerBike summer program evolved from the belief that cycling can reduce the risks of childhood obesity, diabetes and asthma by encouraging youth to increase their physical activity and improve overall physical conditioning. The program also wishes to inspire youth to consider the environmental benefits of choosing a mode of transit that is affordable and does not contribute to the air’s pollution.

“I think many of the kids are initially hesitant to take part in the program, because they are at that stage where being cool is a top priority and they question whether bike riding is really their thing, said Joy Aruguete, executive director of Bickerdike Redevelopement Corp.”

“However, once they do it and feel the sense of leadership, greater camaraderie and heightened self-esteem, they realize how cool it can be.”

BickerBikes is available at no cost to low-income youth between the ages of 12 and 16. The program offers two four-week sessions beginning in July and August. Each session is open to 12 students.

The BikerBikes program, headquartered at 1615 N. Rockwell, will begin with a trip to the Working Bikes Cooperatives on Chicago’s South Side. The Cooperative will donate the each child a used bike of their choosing, and each child will work hands-on with their bicycle in four-hour classes, four days a week, at first learning basic maintenance and later more in-depth repair. The workshop sessions will be interspersed with lessons on cycling and bike related events throughout the city.

Funding for the program came through a grant from the United Way.

Students also receive a helmet, lock, safety lights and repair manuals at not cost to them. Though the program is free, it is targeted at those in the areas where the Bickerdike company is currently involved in development initiatives, including Humboldt Park, West Town, Logan Square and Hermosa.

Open registration will be held from May 23 to June 3 to fill all 24 available slots, which are expected to fill quickly. For more information about the program or to find out the status of available slots call the Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. at (773) 278-5669.