Barrio Works

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Barrio Works is a hands-on workshop focusing on metal working, wood working and bike repair designed to help young people develop technical trade and life skills. Chris Williams, Barrio Works coordinator, talks about the community involvement with the workshop.

José Cardenas: Barrio works has become a program where inner-city kids can get hands-on experience with special technical skills. They're able to take care of bikes and learn how to build custom bikes. With me to talk about this program is Chris Williams, coordinator for Barrio Works. Welcome to "Horizonte."

Chris Williams: Thank you.

José Cardenas: Let's talk a little about the history of the program. I realize it's more than just bikes. Let's go back. Neighborhood Ministries is the overarching organization?

Chris Williams: Neighborhood Ministries for close to 30 years now. The Barrio Works program began as Barrio Bikes in about 2000 and began as a way to help kids get a bike. Usually they would take a donated bike from somebody in kind of Phoenix at large. They'd take a donated bike that was usually pretty worn down and fix it up and give it to a youth.

José Cardenas: When did this start?

Chris Williams: That program started in 2000, and I took over in 2007 -- beginning of 2007 -- and we just kind of ramped up that original program and have expanded the Earn a Bike program. We take youth from our community immediately surrounding out at about 19th Avenue and Van Buren and youth as young as seven or eight years old come in, and they sign in in the shop. We have time sheets. For one hour of their work, we give them about $2.50 of shop credit that they can use to buy a bike or parts to fix a bike if they don't have one.

José Cardenas: The name has changed in part because the scope of the activities is broader.

Chris Williams: Yeah. We love bikes. It made the most sense to be the spear that we lead with, but we have overarching vision to teach technical trade skills beyond just bikes. We want to continue to learn new skills, so we also teach metalworking and woodworking in the shop and are open to other skills to teach youth.

José Cardenas: And how many kids are we talking about?

Chris Williams: Through Neighborhood Ministries, we have access to well over 1000 youth throughout a given week or a year, but we have about 50 that we reach with good strong ties.

José Cardenas: We've got some pictures on the screen right now of some of those kids.

Chris Williams: Yeah.

José Cardenas: In terms of the make-up of the classes or the groups, the ages and sexes?

Chris Williams: Predominantly we serve young men. Most of those youth fall within the grades of third grade and 12th grade, so they run eight or nine years old up to 18. But we do see some -- I think there was a picture of some young ladies, and they tend to help out in the bike shop more and some of the welding classes and things like that.

José Cardenas: You've now evolved. It's not simply a way for the kids to earn their rights to a bike. You guys are selling them now.

Chris Williams: That's correct. In 2010, we developed alongside a manufacturer called Works in Cycles. They're in New York City. They have a rich reputation. They've been building bikes in the U.S. since 1898, and we set ourselves up as a private seller of their Cruiser bike. We get their frames completely unassembled, get them painted locally, reassemble them, make some design upgrades, and sell those to Phoenix at large. We have a lot of used bikes that we sell into our community immediately surrounding us for as cheap as $50 or even cheaper. The Cruiser bikes are a little bit high-end Cruiser, but we can use those. They might not sell in our community, but we can use those to tell our story at large and get other help to fund what we're doing.

José Cardenas: How do you promote the sales?

Chris Williams: As a nonprofit, we're short on capital and marketing funds, but recently we've used a crowd funding website called indigo-go to run a 40-day campaign. In 40 days, we've raised about $10,000, and that's a great leap forward for us. With that, we'll be building a website shortly that will help us with marketing and making our bikes more accessible.

José Cardenas: And are you still taking donations?

Chris Williams: The campaign has ended but, yes, we'll still continue to sell bikes and take help.

José Cardenas: If somebody wants more information about that, whether it's about making contributions or just getting more information about the program, how would they obtain that?

Chris Williams: We have a page on the Neighborhood Ministries website. The website is There's a Barrio Works page there. There's also a Barrio Bikes Facebook page, which is an older page. Very shortly, we should have a Barrio Works dot com or dot org website.

José Cardenas: What is the biggest thing the kids get out of the program?

Chris Williams: We're hoping to instill in them an entrepreneurial spirit and a confidence they can create something and be a part of something in our community. The world tends to tell them there's not too much to be expected from them. We believe that there are many talents and skills inherent in our community, and we just want to bring those to light. To the extent that we can help kids learn from our failures and successes in launching this bike shop and get them in a better position to start a business of their own someday, we'd be very happy to do that.

José Cardenas: Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte." I'm happy to talk about this great program.

Chris Williams: Thanks.

Chris Williams:Director, Barrio Works;


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