Before everything stopped, our fastest growing program was Kids Building Bikes – an initiative to teach Indianapolis youth not only mechanical aptitude through the proper use of tools, but also a wide array of essential skills that are crucial to becoming productive members of society for an entire lifetime. 

Problem solving. Perseverance. Critical Thinking. Initiative. Work Ethic. Collaboration. 

For certain – our students learn how to properly hold and turn a wrench to make an adjustment on a bike. However this simple exercise is conducted within a curriculum that gives the student room to make mistakes and figure it out themselves.  It requires them to help their peers when they get stuck and allows them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through the final assembly of a brand new bicycle that they earn when they graduate the program.. And over the course of the 8 class sessions, our Building Bikes staff become not only instructors but also mentors and friends. 

During our time with these students we emphasize that it is important to recognize that you never know when you might use some of these skills over the course of your lifetime – but when challenges arise you will have the confidence that you are ready and able to tackle it head on. 

Which brings me around to how I’ve spent my past couple of weeks. We miss working with our students – but while we are currently unable to provide our programming to the youth of central Indiana, we have turned our focus to a hugely important and growing problem in these uncertain times: food insecurity.   

Our entire team at Nine13sports has been putting many of these essential skills into practice as we’ve partnered with a growing number of organizations who are supporting our most vulnerable residents during their greatest time of need. We are utilizing our trucks, our trailers, our transport vans and most importantly our amazing staff to deliver food to individuals, families and agencies around Indianapolis through our Bulk Food Delivery and Family Food Box Delivery initiatives.  

After working with our leadership team to develop the strategy for how we could meet the immediate need of addressing this growing issue of food insecurity throughout Indianapolis my shift in responsibilities has changed my daily duties from developing partnerships and securing funding that sustain our operations to managing logistics for the delivery of over 65,000 lbs of non-perishable food a week to nearly 30 agencies across the city. 

Although I never went through a formalized program like Kids Building Bikes, I was fortunate enough to learn the same skills our program imparts on the youth we serve by working for many great mentors in a variety of environments that prepared me for what we are doing for the Indianapolis community.  

One of my first jobs was working in the lumber yard at Von Tobel’s Lumber in Valparaiso, Indiana where I grew up.  There I learned from guys like Dave, Dean & John how to safely and efficiently operate a forklift to load and unload trucks and railcars to keep the yard stocked for the customers. I also watched our delivery dispatchers Ken and Pat put together the daily delivery schedule for the team of trucks & drivers that were getting construction supplies to jobsites across northwest Indiana.  This experience has come in handy as I’ve had to hop back into the seat of a forklift for hours to stock our facility with the 140 pallets of family meal boxes a week we are delivering.  When I’m not doing that I’m solving the puzzle of the schedule that puts 2 truck/trailer rigs into motion to get the food to nearly 30 different agencies each week when they need it. 

Growing up, my dad worked for an excavation company and from him I had a chance to learn the fine art of driving a truck/trailer – something I’m doing quite a bit of as we roll around the city delivering pallets of food.  Additionally, on the weekends as he took on a variety of construction, electrical or plumbing side jobs – from the time I could be a second set of hands on a jobsite he had me tagging along.  These experiences taught me problem solving, work ethic and how to use any tool in the toolbox to get the job done right.  This came in quite handy last week when a leaf spring snapped on our ExploreIndy trailer that we are using to move pallets of food.  By collaborating with my colleague Matty Bennett we were able to get the trailer fixed and rolling again before the end of the day and didn’t miss any of our scheduled deliveries. 

And one of the most fun jobs I ever had was working alongside Robert, Ron & Angela in the beverage catering department at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May when I was in college. As we managed the logistics of keeping a number of beverage warehouse locations stocked with pop, water, beer & liquor that would eventually be delivered to the dozens of hospitality suites around the track, operating a pallet jack in tight confines became an unconscious skill that was honed with plenty of practice.  I’m doing quite a bit of that these days. And if you anything about the size of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the scope of the Month of May, you won’t be surprised when I say that job required every bit of work ethic and initiative I had gleaned from past experiences.  

I’m just one small cog in the machine that is making all this happen – and I’m proud to be part of a team that is demonstrating one of the most important lessons we teach in our Building Bikes program: Perseverance.  

It is becoming more and more clear that because of the pandemic our youth focused programming is going to be on hiatus for longer than we’d like and it would be very easy for our team to shy away from the challenge and uncertainty before us.  Yet not one single person on our team has wavered in their support of this new role our organization is playing in our community. Day after day they keep showing up asking what else they can do, how else they can help.  

When all of this is over and we get to go back to our normal programming working with kids and bikes all over central Indiana, we will have a new set of examples of the skills we teach in Kids Building Bikes to share with our students. We will have them because we lived them.