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Homeless or in transition youth learn bicycle repair and other key job skills with p:ear

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Experienced bike mechanic Kaia MacLaren runs the Gresham bike repair and sales shop for p:ear. It could be said that p:ear's Gresham Bike Works repairs and rebuilds both bicycles and young lives.

"First and foremost, we are hoping to help the youth we are working with to transition out of homelessness," said Nathan Engkjer, recreation programs coordinator, for p:ear, a Portland nonprofit that mentors unhoused youth.

P:ear's main center of operations is in downtown Portland and that's where young people begin the training program with a 10-week course that gives them the basics of bike repair and rebuilding. They learn to perform complete bike builds, explore bike systems, align wheels, overhaul bottom brackets and install shifter and brake cables, as well as housing.

Once the budding mechanics finish the 10-week course, they can apply to work at the Gresham store and repair shop, at 16126 S.E. Stark St., behind the Rosewood Initiative. There, they continue their training and work.

Founded in 2002, p:ear has a variety of mentoring, support and recreation programs for homeless youth. Portland's p:ear kitchen serves healthy meals. Mentors provide guidance, workshops and field trips. P:ear supports kids pursuing their educations and has multiple programs in the arts. P:ear has mentored more than 5,000 youth.

The nonprofit organization provides job training through the bike shop and a Portland-based barista training program which includes a coffee window. There is also a p:ear art gallery that shows youth art work.

P:ear "builds positive relationships with homeless and transitional youth through education, art and recreation to affirm personal worth and create more meaningful and healthier lives," its mission statement said.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - The Gresham p:ear bike shop has a small inventory of reconditioned bikes for sale at bargain prices. The bike repair program "is a social justice enterprise that provides job training," said Kaia MacLaren, who runs the Gresham bike repair and sales shop for p:ear.

The goal also is for the youngsters to build confidence, critical thinking and life skills. They should come away with the skills to land entry-level positions in professional bicycle shops.

"They find out what it means to show up on time; the things we expect of the workforce in America," said MacLaren

MacLaren, 31, a graduate of Portland's Reed College and a bicycle mechanic for 10 years, said so far none of the p:ear bike mechanics have landed a regular job, but the program is both small and relatively new.

Why bike repair?

MacLaren said it is a practical discipline in bike-loving Portland.

"A lot of people have bikes, even low-income people," she said.

She also explained that repairing bikes is a confidence builder.

"There are a bunch of little wins," as each step in a repair or rebuild works out.

P:ear located the shop in Gresham partly because there are not a lot of bike repair places in East Multnomah County, MacLaren said.

Engkjer said the Gresham bike shop will become increasingly involved in the East Multnomah County community. Participants already host a monthly bike repair workshop for teens at the Rockwood Library (see sidebar).

P:ear partners with the nonprofit Free Bikes for Kids (FB4K), which collects and distributes bikes to low-income children.

P:ear has participated in bicycle safety efforts at Oliver Elementary School and just received a grant to work on bicycle safety classes for younger students in the after school SUN program in the area.

"We're working with the community out there to assess and meet needs around bicycle transportation," Engkjer said. "We're here for the community."

Visit p:ear Bike Shop

P:ear's Bike Shop, 16126 S.E. Stark St., behind the Rosewood Initiative, is open three days per week, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

The bike shop can do repairs and rebuilding of bicycles. The shop sells reconditioned bikes at bargain prices and a few bike accessories. "Your bike will be more thoroughly gone over than at many other shops. The prices are reasonable and turnaround time is short," said Kaia MacLaren, who runs the Gresham bike repair and sales shop for p:ear. They welcome donations of bicycles, which will be repaired and sold to fund the nonprofit enterprise or donated to those in need.

Learn how to fix your own bike

Drop in to the Rockwood Library maker space, 17917 S.E. Stark St., from 4:30-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, and every last Saturday.

Bring your bike and your repair questions for p:ear's student bike mechanics. This is for teens in grades 6-12.

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