Non-profit shop wants everyone on bikes

Nov. 5, 2014

Jay Mauk, 45, dodges people and bikes to reach the front of the shop, wheeling the white bike with training wheels and a small Disney princess backpack attached to the handlebars.

It is new bike day for a little girl, who fidgets next to her father.

"Now, I own Killer Hill," Adair said.

For Mauk, the child's excitement makes the sunny November day feel like an early Christmas.

As president of the Lincoln Bike Kitchen, Mauk watches many new bike days, which are one of her favorite parts of her job.

Mauk became the bike kitchen's president in 2013 during a period of upheaval for the organization. After three years, the previous president, Charles Mitchell, and other board members were stepping down, and the non-profit group was forced to relocate from 1720 S. 15th St., its previous location, to 1635 First St.

Mauk said that she was the only one "bossy enough" to be president.

She uses her innate managerial skills to support the bike kitchen's mission, which Mauk defined as helping "as many people who want a bike to get a bike."

The bike kitchen gives bikes to children, helps adults earn their own bikes through a 10-hour volunteer program, and provides assistance with bike repairs.

The bike kitchen "reaches the community that isn't being served by the typical biking community," Mauk said. The bike kitchen's clients are people who can't afford the typical bike repair fees or would like to learn how to fix their own bikes.

Denny LaDue, owner of the Used Bike Shop, said the bike kitchen hasn't affected his business because he caters to customers who would rather pay for bike repairs than fix it themselves.

The bike kitchen is based on a do-it-yourself policy encouraging individuals to learn basic bicycle maintenance skills.

"We don't fix bicycles for people, but with them," volunteer Luciano Insua said.

A little over half of the people helped by the bike kitchen earn $10,000 or less, according to the organization's survey. From June 2013 to August 2014, the organization provided 109 bikes through its bike-earning program. In the same time period, the bike kitchen estimates that it has contributed $77,845 to the community through its bikes and bike repairs.

Mauk has played a big part in serving that community.

"She's the person that keeps the shop running," said Kyle Luttgeharm, a mechanic and treasurer for the organization.

Mauk, whose self-described job description is "making sure crap gets done," deals with the logistics of the shop. Mauk schedules fundraising events, files grant applications and acts as a liaison between the office and the shop floor.

"She is a take charge, no-nonsense person who doesn't put up with B.S. with a heart of gold," volunteer Beth Eckles said.

Mauk's organization skills are in greatest demand during the open shop hours on Sundays and Mondays, especially during nice weather. Mauk ensures the paperwork is in order and that the repair line moves smoothly.

"She's great at telling people what to do," said bike kitchen treasurer B.J. Green.

The majority of that paperwork deals with the bike kitchen's earn-a-bike program. Within this program, a person must volunteer for five hours before claiming a bike. Once a bike has been claimed, the claim ticket removes the bike from availability for two months. After volunteering 10 hours, the participant can take home his or her bike.

Bikes are provided to children without a volunteer requirement.

"We want you on our bikes," Mauk said.

Mauk, who is originally from north central Kansas, earned her first bike in 2011 after her youngest son, T.J., earned his own bike through the program. Mauk was unemployed at this time. In 2008, she moved because of a "bad relationship" and chose here because it was where her partner, Green, lived.

"I bike because it's easier," she said.

Mauk is a groundwater staff assistant with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. Work is only 2 miles away from her home. Although proximity was a big motivation, the cost of gas and availability of parking in downtown Lincoln also factored into her decision to bike.

Mauk, who has an associate's degree in sustainable agriculture, appreciates the environmental benefits of biking.

"Biking is one small thing that I can do that makes a difference in the world," Mauk said. She also helps the bike kitchen be more environmentally friendly by recycling unusable metal parts.

In addition to the environment, the volunteer-supported bike kitchen is dedicated to the community it serves. The bike kitchen's do-it-yourself mentality allows participants to gain bicycle maintenance skills, but the volunteers are always willing to lend a helping hand.

"I love getting people out riding," shop master Gary Little said. As the most experienced bike mechanic at the bike kitchen with 40 years under his belt, Little said he enjoys teaching new volunteers and the challenges of running into "something that stumps me."

A few volunteers at the bike kitchen are fulfilling required community service hours for different programs. For example, the juvenile diversion service allows youths who commit non-violent crimes to fulfill community service hours instead of harsher penalties, according to Mauk.

"I don't care about (the volunteer's) background," she said. "They do a good job, and I will brag on them all day. They think that society has given up on them so they give up on themselves."

Mauk bragged about a volunteer who started at the bike kitchen through the diversion program.

Although the young man was an experienced bike mechanic, Mauk said he was standoffish and didn't talk a lot. After working at the bike kitchen, that volunteer now easily interacts with customers at his job as a local mechanic.

Mauk has also noticed that growth and change in herself.

"I've become a lot more tactful," she said. In addition to restraint, Mauk said that the bike kitchen has made her less self-involved and more focused on the big picture.

The biggest challenge the donation-funded bike kitchen faces is money. Monthly overhead including rent, utilities and parts is $1,400. Although people who use the bike kitchen are encouraged to donate, Mauk said those individuals often are unable to contribute much. Therefore, the bike kitchen organizes events like the Nov. 8 Fall Feast, which is a potluck and silent auction fundraising event.

Mauk, who plans to contribute her homemade chicken and noodles to the event, said the fundraising efforts are vital to equalizing the Lincoln bike community by ensuring that everyone who wants a bike can earn one.

"People who are working a minimum-wage job deserve the same opportunity to get the same bike as people who could afford it," Mauk said.

After seeing the smiles on children's faces when they ride their new bikes, Mauk said those children, who possibly wouldn't have received a bike, are the reasons she keeps volunteering.

"Brings me back," Mauk said.