SEEN: 'We believe in human power'
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH World Photo Editor
Sunday, July 08, 2012
8/01/12 at 9:49 AM
Editor's note: Seen is a weekly feature showcasing the work of a Tulsa World photojournalist.
The design of a bicycle is one of practicality, of function.
In fact, it has changed very little in a hundred years. Function has dictated its form since its invention. It is precise, simple, functional and geometrically beautiful.
On a steamy Tuesday night, the setting sun gave way to indigo sky and a warm glow spilled from the garage door at Tulsa Hub, 601 W. Third St. Inside, the volunteers and employees of Tulsa Hub seemed to take their cues from the spins and twirls of a bicycle as they assembled, tuned and adjusted old donated bicycles. They clanked, creaked and cranked pedals, brakes and wheels, fine-tuning old steel Schwinns and Shoguns, test-driving each and adjusting them again before moving on to the next project.
There was little in the way of chitchat and conversation, an economy and efficiency to every movement - like the economy of movement found in a bicycle.
"We believe in human power," said Ren Barger, Tulsa Hub's founder, executive director and sole full-time employee.
She speaks passionately about bikes and sums up their power in one word: freedom. She says it with a smile.
She's quick to answer when asked about Tulsa Hub's purpose. She knows it, and she believes in it.
"We are a volunteer syndicate of passionate individuals who are changing lives through cycling," she said.
To be specific, Tulsa Hub is a nonprofit that, through its Adult Cycling Empowerment (ACE) program, provides solid, functioning bicycles to underprivileged people who have "the most pressing needs for access to transportation."
But they don't just hand bikes to anyone who asks.
"We offer service and educational opportunities so that they can earn a vehicle, which is powered by their own self-reliance rather than their access to money," she said. "We want to have a relationship with everyone that comes in for the program. They have to pay it forward through volunteerism."
Those who join the program must work at Tulsa Hub for a minimum of two hours followed by a six-hour bicycle training course. Then they must complete two hours of mechanical overview to take care of basic maintenance of the bike. If participants volunteer at least two hours a month, they earn credits that they can use toward the purchase of accessories, like lights and emergency tool kits.
"It was always important to me that people who are here are here because they have something to contribute to this place," Barger said.
"It's been a blessing," said ACE participant Daniel Russell, who is homeless and spends his nights at the Salvation Army.
But when the garage door is open at Tulsa Hub, odds are he will be lending a hand working on bikes and fine-tuning his own.
Russell is a young guy, fit and energetic. He bounces from work station to work station, picking each tool with purpose. He doesn't hesitate to ask questions of volunteers, and he visibly brightens when asked about Tulsa Hub and its impact. Despite his situation, he gushes positivity.
"It's about more than riding a bike," said Russell, who has found a job since beginning the program and uses his bike to ride to work. "It helps build positive relationships."
For Barger, this is one of the keys of the program. There is not only accountability but also the construction of a community. So the name Hub couldn't be more appropriate.
This place is the center of a cycling community, and she wants it to grow. For Barger, there is more to it than getting people to work. It's about changing the face of how cycling is viewed in Tulsa.
For me, as a cyclist, this is what drew me to this program.
I am a cyclist in the most practical sense of the word. I ride my bike for transportation. I fall somewhere in the middle of the cycling spectrum. I don't have to ride my bike to work, but I choose to. I enjoy it, but I spend most of my free time doing other things. The extremes are always the most visible and tend to define any group.
It is Barger's desire to normalize cycling that is infectious - idealistic, but infectious and ambitious.
"People should not be judged by the mode of their transportation but by the content of their character," she said. "It's one of the only things that will unite people regardless of the political spectrum, their race, their class. You can get on your bike and ride and learn about people who are beyond your realm of social exposure."
Tulsa Hub also provides after-school programs for children in third through sixth grades. Barger's personal goal is to have 50 percent of students biking or walking to school.
"As adults, a lot of people leave cycling in the realm of what children do," she said. "There is the expectation that transportation is a motor vehicle. There are so many challenges that this nation is facing regarding health of cities, connectivity of community. Bicycling is a simple solution to the challenges we are facing right now. It's positive for the environment; it's good for neighborhoods."
Tulsa Hub is always seeking monetary donations and donations of bicycles of any kind. They also need volunteers in the way of bicycle mechanics.
Hours for donations of bicycles are 9 a.m.-noon and 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can drop off bikes at 601 W. Third St.
For more, call 918-813-0028; or visit tulsaworld.com/tulsahub
Original Print Headline: Seen
Volunteer Rob Franklin fixes a wheel on a bike at Tulsa Hub. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/Tulsa World
Volunteers work on old bikes at Tulsa Hub. Through its Adult Cycling Empowerment (ACE) program, Tulsa Hub provides solid, functioning bicycles to underprivileged people who have "the most pressing needs for access to transportation." CHRISTOPHER SMITH/Tulsa World
"We believe in human power," says Ren Barger (left) founder and executive director of Tulsa Hub. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/Tulsa World
Daniel Russell checks a cassette on a bike wheel at Tulsa Hub. Russell is the recipient of a bicycle from Tulsa Hub through the ACE program. "It's about more than riding a bike," Russell said. "It helps build positive relationships." CHRISTOPHER SMITH/Tulsa World