If you’re biking along the Virginia Capital Trail in downtown Richmond, you’ll notice a shipping container 10 feet off the trail. It’s tricked-out and outfitted with an outdoor patio and lawn chairs. And there are bikes everywhere. More bikes than you’d even think could fit into the 40-foot container spill out into the surrounding grass. The bikes are there, waiting to be rented by Richmond Cycling Corps (RCC), a nonprofit organization that uses cycling to bolster at-risk youth living in poverty and provide them with life skills.
The idea for the rental program, dubbed The Kickstand, took root when Craig Dodson, founder of RCC, saw the surplus of bikes at the RCC headquarters in Scott’s Addition. Because mountain bikes are used in certain seasons and road bikes in others, there are many bikes not being used at any given time, and Dodson saw renting these bikes as an opportunity to earn income for RCC, while providing an additional storage site for the bikes. Not only is this a smart business model, but it also engages youth in the RCC program in a new way, allowing them to earn a paycheck, engage with customers, and be a resource to the users of the Capital Trail.
“The Capital Trail is here to stay. It’s thriving…absolutely thriving. We are literally on the Capital Trail, located at the busiest junction along the 50-mile stretch,” explains Dodson. “The Richmond community has a resource exactly where it’s needed most, and our youth employed at The Kickstand are integrated, for the first time in their lives, within the diversity of the Richmond community. The Kickstand and the youth who work there, provide real value to Capital Trail users—and in turn, such a genuine experience provides real value to our youth.”
Dodson tells the story of one of the Kickstand’s new employees, 17-year-old Tawante Nash, who’s been in the RCC program for seven years. Part of Tawante’s job is to patrol the Capital Trail from the Richmond trailhead to Four Mile Creek Park in Henrico County and offer services to people in need. One hot day, a man was out for a long run on the trail and started to get dehydrated and bonk. He was in trouble. Tawante rolled up on a cargo bike, loaded with cold water, tools, and essentials, and offered the man something to drink. The man later said it was like a mirage.
According to Dodson, it’s moments like this that teach the youth that what they do on this trail with this bike actually matters. “They really feel the value of their job,” he explains.
With stories like this, Dodson and his team are winning the hearts of Richmonders. The organization’s results have been widespread, emotional, and impactful. Realizing this, the Robins Foundation chipped in $15,000 to partially fund RCC’s earned-income-venture.
Open since mid-July, The Kickstand offers several types of Kona bikes for rent, kids’ bikes, kids’ trailers, tag-alongs, tandems, cold drinks, bicycle maintenance, comfortable chairs, and good company. 100 percent of the proceeds go to Richmond Cycling Corps.
“Non-profits are inherently non-sustainable business models. As such, there is often a fourth revenue component that is often overlooked—that of earned-income,” says Dodson. “Within RCC, we have a very entrepreneurial spirit toward not only the vanguard style of outreach that we do, but also toward the vanguard style of raising capital that supports such outreach.”