Through the combination of teenage mentoring programs, a bike shop and a coffee house, The Bike Union introduced the concept of “social enterprise” to Omaha.
In January of 2014, The Bike Union’s Executive Director Miah Sommer began working full-time on developing the project. Since then, the 46-year-old building where it is housed has been thoroughly renovated, the mentoring programs put in practice and the bike and coffee shop opened.
Located on the corner of 18th Street and Dodge, The Bike Union began as a mentoring project for at-risk adolescents, helping them gain skills for professional opportunities for when they reach the working age of 16.
Once the children reach the age of 16, they are able to join a full-year program working with the organization, in which they exercise what they learned during their early part of the program.
The organization is also affiliated with the Mindfulness Outreach Initiative. Through meditation, it educates the teenagers on how to deal with stress, anxiety, anger and depression. This practice also helps the teenage mentorship program participants to develop compassion and patience in order to live mindful lives, according to Sommer.
“The Bike Union has good resources and helps you at a personal level,” said teenage mentorship participant David Moody.
The Bike Union is also a full-service bike shop and coffee shop open to the public. The revenues obtained from these services go to the mentoring program. The organization intends to use the bicycle as a mean for social change, said Program Coordinator Matt Wurth.
The Bike Union also offers volunteer opportunities ranging from mechanics to baristas as the coffee shop traffic increases.
When the organization receives department store bicycle donations, mechanics dismantle them and recycle the parts that are no longer useful. Wurth said the organization could use a hand organizing the pieces that remain in the shop.
According to Sommer, the next step for The Bike Union is to keep strengthening the concept of retail businesses where the profits go back to the community.
Sommer intends to help not only bike-related organizations to implement this model, but any other institution seeking to establish a direct relationship with the Omaha community.
The Bike Union’s motto is “Bikes - Coffee - Community” which, through its focus on fostering social and community change with its services, seems to be exactly right.