Wells got her start in finance at Cycles for Change in 2009, first as a volunteer on the development and finance teams, then as the board treasurer, and with no prior experience. “No one else wanted the job,” she laughs. “And I wanted to learn more. I think creating the financial infrastructure of the place was my biggest contribution. An organization can actually work toward their mission so much better if you have some simple practices and procedures in place and donors know their money is being used well.”
This all happened after taking her first bike maintenance class at C4C in 2008. Wells had become an avid biker during her second year at the U of M, after getting tired of walking everywhere her first year. “I wasn’t far [from anything] so was never biking more than a couple miles,” she recalls. “It was my first experience of using it as transportation.”
She took her C4C class to learn more about bikes, and after enjoying it, wanted to volunteer at C4C, but felt she didn’t yet have the necessary skills to be fixing other people’s bikes. It was at this time that C4C team structures were being set up, and she was invited to be on the development team. “Three or four months later I was asked to apply for the board,” she says. “And that was it. I was hooked.”
Not being on the front-and-center, open shop, bike maintenance end of things, but instead being on the behind-the-scenes, bookkeeping end of C4C’s work didn’t hinder Wells’ biking enthusiasm or growth of her riding skills. “C4C definitely taught me how to bike for transportation,” she says. “I was going to C4C in the morning and my paid job at noon and would bike out with Jason [Tanzman]. I’d learn how to bike in traffic, signal, hold the lane, and everything that’s not intuitive about biking. I had the chance to learn actual street biking from going to and from C4C meetings.”
Though it’s been a year since Wells resigned from her board position and is no longer going to those C4C meetings, she is still biking for transportation, even going carless a year and a half ago, which is one of the most important things she learned from her C4C experience. “I learned what life can be like without being dependent on a car and that it’s possible to do that,” she says. “I actually find it’s much easier to not have a car. With a car it was always, ‘Well, should I bike.’ But without a car, it’s not a painful decision—it’s just what I do.”
C4C’s community of bicyclists definitely includes many full-time bikers like Wells, but it also includes less experienced bikers who ride for fun rather than for transportation. It’s something that Wells loves about C4C. “I love how inclusive the organization is and how there is really that philosophy of empowerment in the staff and board members and youth,” she explains. “I got to learn these skills through the organization, youth get to teach adult bike maintenance classes, and everyone has the ability to learn and pass their knowledge on to others. I certainly eased into things, from doing short commutes in Minneapolis, to biking to St. Paul, to learning to ride in the winter.” She believes no matter where a biker is at in their biking abilities, they can always push to learn more and question the things that become routine.
Wells has seen C4C building community in many ways, but one way stands out to her the most. “The classes are the most visible and the easiest way to hook in community members,” she says. “Teaching the very simple repairs that everyone should know I think has the biggest impact. You aren’t going to turn everyone into a year-round, full-time biker, but it’s easy to make sure someone doesn’t throw their bike into a corner of the garage when it gets a flat in June and then never touches it again.” And she says just being around the C4C environment encourages a person to bike more, because it’s fun and social.
In her five years as a board member, Wells made huge contributions to the C4C infrastructure, helping to increase C4C’s budget more than sevenfold, and developed her own professional skills as well. “I like the financial and policy making side of things, getting structures in place to make the organization as tight as possible so we can do the work better,” she says.
Wells has been at her current financial operations position with Great River Greening in St. Paul for over three years. “I do credit C4C for getting me some of my following positions,” she says. “There aren’t too many organizations that you can go into and just run with something that you want to take on.”