Luke Whitlock, Youth Apprentice

Before starting C4C’s Youth Apprenticeship, Luke Whitlock didn’t know he would be doing more than learning bicycle mechanics–he quickly found out he was going to be re-connected to the neighborhood in which he’d always lived.

Luke, a senior at South High School in Minneapolis, was one of four youth in the first ever Minneapolis cohort of apprentices, which began in summer 2016. As a bicyclist, he was drawn to the program.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been biking around, going to school,” he said. “Me and my friends always just biked around the neighborhood, went to the corner store. I was probably about eight or nine when I learned to ride.”

Being in the Youth Apprenticeship program has opened up more opportunities to Luke than just being able to (or wanting to) ride more often.

“[I like] interacting with customers and talking about their lives and my life,” he said. “Honestly, it’s a great experience for me, and having different people come in each day with different backgrounds and stories is interesting.”

Because Luke lives in the Seward neighborhood, very close to C4C’s Minneapolis shop, he gets to see familiar faces when he comes to work at Open Shop on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or when he helps staff events in the community.

“There’s a lot of people from my school that come here and I run into people that I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “Anne Sullivan [Communication Center] had an event in the fall that I went to with Jacob (C4C St. Paul Open Shop Coordinator). I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in three or four years and she was a great impact in my life. Seeing her made me happy because she was a family friend. Being at C4C and doing these types of events is getting me re-connected with my community and people I know.”

But staffing something like Open Shop is not always easy for an apprentice mechanic.

“Sometimes there’s 15 people in the shop and it gets tight,” he explained. “It makes it hard to manage, going from person to person, while also trying to work on a bike of my own.”

But that’s what’s great about the youth apprenticeship program–it’s also about building these “soft” employment skills, like managing workflow and interacting with patrons. And Luke has already identified skill areas he’d like to develop more.

“[I’d like to] participate more in events and maybe take a step into more leadership,” he said. “I’m one of the older apprentices, being a senior. Helping lead the new apprentices in the summer program [would be great].”

When asked what was a surprising thing he learned during this first year of the apprenticeship, he expressed something that had nothing to do with bike mechanics.

“Before [the apprenticeship], I never really thought about the bike community,” he said. “I didn’t realize there weren’t as many bikers as there could be. That there are barriers to biking and reasons why people don’t bike. I’d like to learn more about how to break down those barriers for people.”

Already, Luke, who plans to go to college after graduating high school this spring and working at C4C throughout the summer, is doing just that by starting small, with the people he knows.

“People know that I work at a bike shop and they want to come in once in awhile because they live around here,” he said. “Creating that connection for people, letting them know there is a bike shop they can use, is a great way to help.”

Download Luke’s story here.