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Open Roads Unites Kids With Bikes

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Open Roads

Do you know some kids who need their bikes repaired? Or anyone who needs a refurbished bike for the summer? Open Roads Bike Program of Kalamazoo can help in either case - and they do it while affordably serving community children.

They sell refurbished bikes and fix bikes at their new location, 1523 Riverview Drive, on Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Fridays noon to 6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be closed July 3-4.

Open Roads isn't just any bike store; it is the hub for a youth development program teaching social skills and bike mechanic skills. During the process, they are able to provide bikes to kids who complete their signature programs. Thanks to generous donations, they have never once purchased a bike.

Founder and Executive Director Ethan Alexander grew up in northern Michigan in a family who used bicycles for transportation. When he came to Kalamazoo in 1990 to study theatre at Western Michigan University, he brought his passion for bikes with him and fell in love with Kalamazoo.

"I love this town," said Alexander. "The people here are amazing. They are uniquely kind, generous, and warm."

After earning a bachelor's degree in interpersonal communications and a master's degree in counseling psychology, he began his career in mental health and moved on to a career as a positive behavior specialist at Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA).

Even then bikes were always in the back of his mind - and in his basement. Overloaded with bikes from being an avid bike collector since his early 20s, Alexander used the ChangeMakers grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to create a program from a problem which became an extension of work he had done for 10 years both in schools and the community.

Open Roads started with four kids and two adults in a classroom at Kalamazoo College in 2009. They now have seven employees and many programs around Kalamazoo where volunteers and staff help 250-300 kids a year with their bikes, self-esteem, and social skills.

These experiences for area youth occur through the Open Roads Bike Program in many ways, including:

  • Earn-a-Bike: A six to eight week program where youth and teens earn a bicycle, helmet, lock, t-shirt, and certificate.
  • Fixapalooza: A weekly pop-up bike repair clinic workshop in various neighborhoods throughout the summertime. Specific dates and locations are listed online.
  • Apprenticeship: A paid vocational skills opportunity for teens to learn how to run a bike shop.
  • Youth Advisory Board: A paid leadership opportunity for teens to help guide and advise Open Roads.

Despite being busy with the new bike shop and youth programs, Alexander enjoys time with his wife, Maura, and his two children, Otis and Murphy. And they love to bike as a family!

"We live near the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and bike on that frequently. My son Otis and I have the goal to bike 36 miles together to South Haven," Alexander said.

And for Alexander's future plans?

"I want Open Roads to become THE family biking hub in Kalamazoo," he said.

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