When Tyler Sensenig walked into the newly opened The Common Wheel community bike center in his Lancaster neighborhood two years ago, he was merely looking to learn something – anything – about how to maintain and repair a bike.
Two years later, Sensenig, now 17, has a part-time job at the nonprofit, helping kids like him learn the science and mechanics of bicycles. He’s become one of the more notable success stories of the PPL-supported Earn-A-Bike program, which teaches inner city youngsters how to take apart, assemble, service and maintain bikes, and ride them safely. Students who work on donated bikes get to take them home as theirs when their five-week course is completed.
The goal: Get younger people on bikes, get them exercising, and teach them respect, safety and the type of mechanical skills that can help them in science, technology, engineering and math fields in the future. The program teaches patience, problem-solving and self-reliance skills. For some refugee children, the program has helped them learn English and meet neighbors.
Common Wheel was recently awarded a $25,000 grant by the PPL Foundation to help deliver the program. It was part of $2 million PPL gives annually to nonprofit organizations to improve education, develop future workers and revitalize communities.
“The impact that Common Wheel is having on these kids and the community is immeasurable,” said Jess Baker, PPL regional affairs director. “You can see it on the kids’ faces while they’re in class. They’re engaged, determined and doing something that will have long-lasting benefits.”
The children spend two days weekly at the bike center, located at 701 E. King St., Lancaster, in Reservoir Park. They clean the bikes, remove all components and inspect them, learn how to fix flat tires and receive safe rider instruction before graduating.
Sensenig said his work at Common Wheel helped solidify his interest in mechanical work. So much so that he’ll be attending nearby Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology as a high school senior, earning both high school and college credits. The ultimate goal: a future job in an engineering-related field.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “And it’s great helping the younger kids. They like that they’ll be taking a bike home with them and they really enjoy being able to building something with their own hands.”