When Jaco Coetzee first came to Roseburg, he knew he wanted to help people in the community that tend to be forgotten. Volunteering at Casa de Belen gave him that opportunity, but he needed a way to make a connection with the youth he was working with. A room filled with old bicycles gave him that chance.
He started by fixing bikes in the hall. After returning again and again, Casa de Belen management realized Coetzee was going to stick around and gave him the loading dock as a work area. When enough youth had working bikes, Coetzee began organizing local rides.
Those rides are still being held today, but the bike repair aspect has evolved over the years. Now, the Umpqua Valley Bicycle Outreach program, a branch of Umpqua Valley Youth for Christ, is housed in the entire lower level of the Casa de Belen building. At-risk youth can now learn how to repair bikes, as well as earn business and life experience working at the Casa de Belen Bike Shop.
“Every youth who takes everything they can out of this program will understand how a business functions, how to wisely communicate on social media marketing, have a basic understanding of a budget, and a variety of life lessons,” Coetzee said. “We want to help them be ready for the real world. We are loving on them in a practical way.”
Twenty-year-old Marshall Snyder is a recent graduate of Phoenix Charter School. He has also completed 250 hours in the outreach program to become the shop’s newest apprentice. He said the hands-on aspect is what draws him to the program.
“I thought to myself, I had a bike, I wanted to learn how to do all these skills with the bike and it would be good job experience. There were so many good things about the program,” Snyder said. “It’s a good fit for me. I’m more hands-on than most people, so this is just a good opportunity for me, plus there are other places around here for when I finish the apprenticeship, I can go and get a job.”
Along with the fundamentals of bike repair, Snyder said he is learning about money management and patience.
Shervon Madison, 15, learned about the program when she started at Rose Alternative School. Coetzee offers a bike repair elective class at both Rose and Phoenix. Madison then began working at the shop, building on the basics she learned in class.
“I just thought, why not get more experience. I may move on to the apprenticeship — I need a job so I can help my family,” Madison said. “I like riding my own bike around town and I feel like if I hadn’t taken the class, I could have had an issue while I’m out and about and I wouldn’t be able to fix it.”
Madison dreams of one day becoming a police officer. She hopes to put the repair skills she has learned to use as a motorcycle officer.
The shop specializes in used parts and bike sales. Occasionally the shop will take bike repair orders from the general public, though that aspect is currently on hiatus. Coetzee wants to focus on the learning process rather than customer repairs.
“At our shop, the customer is not our priority. Sorry. We care about them, but the youth are our priority,” Coetzee said.
Youth can apply to join the program at www.uvbicycleoutreach.com, as well as learn more about weekly rides and how to earn their own bike. The website also offers information on how to donate or request support.
“I love what I do. I have the best job in the world,” Coetzee said. “I’m kind of where my dream was when this started.”