Bikes, Boats and Coffee Keep East Bay Kids on Right Path

Anthony Campbell works behind the counter at Street Level Cycles. Photo by Brian Rinker.

Anthony Campbell works behind the counter at Street Level Cycles. Photo by Brian Rinker.

By Brian Rinker

Rosevelt Jones never imagined he’d ever have a job. He thought himself destined for a hard life on the streets of Oakland and in and out of jail.

That changed when Jones found Waterside Workshops about six years ago, a nonprofit that controls a few small businesses it uses to train and employ troubled Bay Area youth.

The organization gave Jones his first job.

“To be honest, I thought I would never have a job, staying on the streets, living the way I was living and doing the things I was doing as a teenager,” he said.

Aquatic Park is a brackish mix of rain Rosevelt-Jonesrunoff and tidal water that flows from the Bay through barnacle-encrusted tubes, smacked up against Interstate 80; the major traffic artery is all that separates the lagoon from the Bay. It is here that Waterside offers vocational training to mostly low-income kids who are on probation and struggling in school.

Ifthe kids can stick with it, they can go from interning to becoming paid employees. At any given time, Waterside has 30 interns and about 15 who work more than 20 hours a week.

Amber Rich and Helder Parreira started Waterside in 2007 because they saw a lack of vocational training in today’s work force.

La Cheim School in Richmond, a private school providing education and mental health services for special-needs youth, agreed to let Waterside take some of their kids.

“It worked well even though these are supposed to be the worst kids, they have that reputation,” said Rich, the daughter of two blacksmiths.

It soon evolved into teaching kids job skills to better prepare them for adulthood. Seven years later, the place is still evolving.

“The kids tell us what direction to head,” said Parreira, because “it’s all for them anyways.”

Parreira, self-proclaimed captain of the shop, has been building boats for 10 years. He teaches the art of traditional wooden boat-building: no sealant, just wooden planks and cotton caulking.

“Once you learn how to build a boat, other stuff comes naturally.” said Parreira, on break from renovating an old building where they plan to expand the bike shop. “Building a boat gives you tools that can be used anywhere in life.”

Berkeley’s Boat Shop, one of three Waterside-run businesses, teaches kids how to build boats and on the weekends rents them to folks looking for a lazy day on the water. Youth teach first-timers how to row and steer the boats.

Waterside operates a bike shop called Street Level Cycles, which has an “open shop,” for the public. Anyone can come to repair their bike for free. Open shop draws a mix of people from the homeless, who live around the lagoon, to the well-to-do with expensive road bikes. Many of the youth teach in open shop.

William, a 16-year-old bike mechanic at Waterside, said that before this job he was doing drugs and heading down a troubled path. William spends an hour riding train and bus to get to West Berkeley from his adoptive home.

Working at Waterside keeps him from hanging with “the bad kids,” he said, while wrenching at a set of chrome handlebars. “It is the best job ever.”

Read the full story at The Chronicle of Social Change.

The Chronicle of Social Change (CSC) is an online periodical covering juvenile justice, child welfare and other industries that should be strengthening youth and families. The CSC is run by Fostering Media Connections, a San Francisco-based organization that uses journalism and media to drive public and political will behind policy and practice to improve the well being of children experiencing foster care. Visit www.fosteringmediaconnections.org for more information

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