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Help on wheels

"Help on wheels" Continued...

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

By 2010, the bike project had grown so much that the O’Maras converted it to a nonprofit and moved operations from their driveway to its present location. Beltline is officially open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and has become Tim’s full-time job. So far, kids have earned 257 bikes, repaired 2,744, and picked up 830 bags of trash.

As Justin works on the bike with the loose chain, he explains what he’s doing: “I’m tightening the bolts on the bike so the bike will be able to go good.” When he thinks the chain is tight, Ms. Becky tells him to take it for a test drive. Justin hesitates: “If the front tire pops off, I’m going to be in big trouble.” Better check it again!

Across the room, Joe—several years older and able to handle more complicated repairs—puts his bike on a rack: “I need some brake pads and front brake pads.” From time to time, Mr. Tim comes by to see how Joe is doing and give instructions: “You can’t force it. OK, now pull it out.”

Donated bikes carry numbered stickers showing the value in stars of each bike. Stars are the shop currency. Each hour of work equals one star, and everything costs something. If a kid gets a flat tire and needs a patch, it costs either money or time. With stars, kids can buy new tires or tubes and extra stuff like locks, lights, and bells. So when kids like Justin or Joe come into the shop, they work to earn stars. They can also earn stars by picking up trash and helping neighbors.

Kids take their developing work ethics into the neighborhood. During spring break, the O’Maras noticed many 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds out looking for jobs—walking dogs, cleaning houses, digging ditches, digging gardens. Tim said it’s a “natural result of earning bikes.”

Outside the shop, some of the kids have chaotic lives. Inside, they operate by Bike Shop rules, which are posted on the wall: “I will not deceive, cheat, or steal. I will be kind and forgive others. 

I will not tell false stories. I will respect my parents and tell them where I’m going. …”

Tim O’Mara explains the shop ethos: “They’re children. Somebody has to be the adult. I’m the adult. I draw a line. They need that, though. They need discipline. They need structure. When they have it, they thrive. That’s how the bike shop operates: It’s very strict and they operate well in it.”

Kids still come to the O’Maras’ house, but they don’t fix bikes on the porch anymore. Some of the long-term kids even get to go inside. That leads some kids on the fringe to ask, “Why can’t I come in?” Tim’s blunt answer: “I don’t know your momma. That’s it. Sorry.”

Over the past four years, the O’Maras have seen three kids deal with a parent’s death from drug abuse, violence, or disease. Those tragedies, Becky says, provide “a unique time to minister to the family, to talk about life after death, reliance on God in difficult times, and where healing comes from.”

They’ve also seen kids they know make heartbreaking choices. As neighbors, they try to make a difference. “Tim was made for a neighborhood like this and kids like this,” Becky says: “His abrasive, natural personality [suits] the boys in this area. They love him.”

Kids rush in the moment Tim O’Mara opens the shop.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Kids rush in the moment Tim O’Mara opens the shop.
Kids who work at the shop often spend their school breaks helping neighbors or picking up trash, which earns stars.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Kids who work at the shop often spend their school breaks helping neighbors or picking up trash, which earns stars.
With stars, kids can buy new tires or tubes, even new bikes.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
With stars, kids can buy new tires or tubes, even new bikes.
The O’Maras have strict rules for inside the shop. Here, Tim talks to a child who was having a hard time being respectful.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
The O’Maras have strict rules for inside the shop. Here, Tim talks to a child who was having a hard time being respectful.
Jerelle and Joseph collaborate on a bike repair.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Jerelle and Joseph collaborate on a bike repair.
Veronica helps by pumping up inner tubes.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Veronica helps by pumping up inner tubes.
The O’Maras opened Beltlilne in 2010, just around the corner from their house.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
The O’Maras opened Beltlilne in 2010, just around the corner from their house.
The O’Maras started Beltline to help kids in the neighborhood make better decisions.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
The O’Maras started Beltline to help kids in the neighborhood make better decisions.
Becky and Tim O’Mara outside their home.
Photo by Tiffany Owens
Becky and Tim O’Mara outside their home.

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Listen to a report on Beltline Bike Shop that aired on The World and Everything in It:

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition.

Follow this year’s Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition and vote for the ministry you believe deserves the 2013 award .

Money Box

• 2012 contributions: $35,590

• 2012 expenses: $36,000

• Net assets at the end of 2012: $20,000 in cash, $5,000 in tools and supplies

• Tim O’Mara’s salary: $16,000

• Staff: Five regular volunteers

• 2013 budget: $56,000

• Website: beltlinebikeshop.org

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