Front Yard Bikes is about a lot more than just bikes
As many college students will readily tell you, transportation and parking on campuses can be an absolute nightmare. Dustin Lafont, founder of Front Yard Bikes, when faced with that all-too-familiar issue, decided to ditch his parking pass and replace it with a bicycle which he maintained himself. Much to his surprise, this small change would set the foundation for an organization that would empower kids through hands-on learning to expand their environments, leadership skills and capabilities.
Dustin and his wife Kimberly built Front Yard Bikes from the ground up, following a chance encounter with a neighborhood child with a run-down tire rim, who approached them needing some assistance with repairs. Lafont’s reasoning was simple.
“He needed help, and I knew how to do it.”
From that point forward word spread like wildfire, and children would regularly meet in their yard to work on building their own bikes, coining the nickname “Front Yard Bikes.” The next location would be an empty shed, followed by a warehouse, then a self-designed workshop, and most recently the acquisition of Mid-City Bikes located on Government Street, a retail location staffed with youth who have grown up building their own bikes as part of the organization.
Entering Front Yard Bikes today, it is easy to feel as if you have been transported to a classroom—one filled with hundreds of bicycle parts, that is. You will find a wall highlighting student successes, pictures displaying and describing tools, and color-coordinated workstations where kids can learn and practice basic mechanics. In addition, there are colorful murals hand-painted on the walls, a youth-run fully-functioning kitchen, areas for tutoring sessions, and an outdoor space consisting of a playground, garden beds filled with blooming flowers and fresh vegetables, and a hand-built mini library that sits on picnic tables for relaxing and recharging.
Comparable to the gears of a well-oiled bicycle, the students, fueled with pride for their workspace, each complete individual tasks and commit to responsibilities, many eventually becoming leaders, tour guides, and members of staff.
“It’s about taking ownership over our youth-run community program,” Lafont said. “The vision was to build a place where kids can grow and come into their own and find the opportunities that they’re looking for every day.”
With this practical mentorship and can-do approach, this after-school program has allowed hundreds of students to develop self-confidence and to recognize their innate potential for contributing positively to their community.
Any youth wishing to join the organization need only to stop by the workshop to complete a tour, have a parent sign a waiver, and can then get right to work. Students are given the option to select a bicycle of their choosing, which mostly consists of donations from the community, and will be paid five dollars an hour to work on it, enhancing their skill sets through training with a variety of different parts and tools.
“There are no free bikes,” said Lafont. “The kids must put in the work. They are building their resumes by being present.”
In addition to bike-building, the students take part in group rides to explore areas of the city, such as the Old Governor’s Mansion downtown, the LSU AgCenter Dairy Store, and other local businesses. The most recent community event was Family Fit Day, where the students rode their bikes alongside the Mayor.
During these outings, Lafont makes a point to question his students: “How can you use this bike to expand your radius for opportunity?” While the students are exercising and taking part in these exciting experiences, they are also increasing their navigational skills, meeting and networking with Baton Rouge business owners, and venturing to areas of the city they may have never been exposed to in the past.
“We are a Baton Rouge success story,” said Lafont. “Our students are the gas for the engine.”
They continue to impress him day after day as they walk into the shop on their own accord. Front Yard Bikes is open to future business collaborations and community events, even a possible Baton Rouge bike share system down the road. As of now, Front Yard Bikes is always seeking more work for its members, donations of bikes, tools and parts, and most importantly, time. If you know a little something about bicycle mechanics and enjoy working with youth, this might be your niche.
Front Yard Bikes can be reached through their contact form at www.frontyardbikes.com, and on Instagram @front_yard_bikes.
Photos by Alyssa Fisher