Gearing-Up uses bikes to change lives

Non-profit program supports ex-cons and addicts

Philadelphia-based non-profit Gearing-Up is using bicycling as a therapeutic tool to help female ex-cons with drug and alcohol addictions transition back into society.

Kristin Gavin, founder of the non-profit organization, believes that cycling offers women-in-transition a healthy activity, an outlet for social interaction and an inexpensive means of transportation.

“Cycling provides something different for each of these women,” Gavin said. “For some, it allows them to escape from trauma they’ve experienced, they feel free, they love the kinesthetic of cycling especially if they’ve been locked up for a long time and many feel like cycling allows them to be a normal and productive member of society. I searched for other programs like this one but only found one similar in Ireland. I think these types of programs could be helpful on a nation-wide level.”

Gavin, a competitive cyclist, graduated with a master’s degree from Temple University’s Exercise and Sport Psychology program. In 2009 she outlined and implemented Gearing-Up, a unique three phase bicycling program at Interim House, which is a women’s recovery home that serves the city of Philadelphia.

“A lot of the women that we work with are coming from prison with drug and alcohol related crimes,” Gavin said. “Many of them come through some sort of treatment course. The best treatment match for these women… is a recovery home.”

Gearing-Up is contracted to work with several facilities that serve women-in-transition including Chances, an outpatient women’s recovery center and New Directions for Women, a women’s residential re-entry home. Furthermore, Gearing-Up recently implemented an indoor cycling program at the Philadelphia County Women’s Prison.

“At the prison we work with female inmates who are going through treatment units,” Gavin said. “We are advocating for women in the prison to participate in our program and move on to receive treatment at one of our three partner facilities instead of returning home or turning to the streets.”

Gearing-Up’s three-phase program begins with an enrollment period to allow women to learn more about each subsequent phase and the chance to log in 10 preliminary miles required to move on to the first phase. Fuji Bicycles, with headquarters based in Philadelphia, donated 18 bikes for the women to ride.

“It is our requirement that our program is voluntary,” Gavin said. “It is stated in our contract with each facility that our program is not a requirement. The women want to be there for different reasons. Most of them want to just get out of the house and be outside. We only work with women who chose to be in the program. Most of these women already know how to ride a bike because many of them grew up in low income neighborhoods and that was their source of transportation.”

The women interested in joining the program move on to phases one where they are required to ride three days per week and have an opportunity to earn cycling water bottles, shirts and shorts based on the total number of miles they ride. In phase two, women learn how to become independent bike riders and enter the earn-a-bike program. Neighborhood Bike Works and Gearing-Up collaborate to offer a six-week course that culminates with the women becoming bike owners. Lastly, women who become alumni of the Gearing-Up program are eligible to return as a volunteer buddy for incoming phase one riders.

In two years, Gearing-Up has helped transition more than 100 women in the Philadelphia area and graduated 25 of those through its alumni and earn-a-bike program.

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