Earning lowrider bike parts keeps these Kansas City, Kansas, kids out of trouble
An after-school program teaches kids life skills through constructing lowrider bikes. Its founder, Martin Cervantes, says he was once a troubled kid himself.
Neyzer Camargo Baez has a full-ride scholarship to Avila University this fall. The 18-year-old student at J.C. Harmon High School has stayed out of trouble, but says his friends haven’t always been on the same path.
“Most of my friends, you know, they ended up getting in trouble; some of them got killed, some of them got, you know, shot, went to jail,” Baez said.
An after-school program in Kansas City, Kansas aims to help at-risk youth like Baez’s friends.
Martin Cervantes founded Lowriding 2 Success, a program that incentivizes students to resolve conflict and keep their grades up by promising bike parts.
High school-aged students in Kansas City, Kansas are referred to the program by the juvenile court system, teachers or parents when they struggle with low attendance, poor grades, probation, and drug or gang relations.
Cervantes said he was once in their shoes. He’s now been a mentor in Kansas City for 17 years.
“[I] got in trouble growing up. So now is my time to give back to our community,” Cervantes said.
The program is funded through a grant from the Juvenile Corrections Advisory Board.
"It's a very good thing for Kansas City, Kansas, especially when we don't have a lot of programs out there," said Adrienne Gilchrist, an employee of Wyandotte's Juvenile Detention Center.
Gilchrist said the program works because it’s hands-on.
Ten students currently attend the after-school program, which just moved to a new location in Kansas City. They receive a basic bike kit, then earn custom parts like handlebars and pedals through good behavior, improved grades or attendance.
As they work on their bikes, Cervantes introduces the students to guest speakers and professionals who talk with and mentor the students. The students in the program also read to younger kids.
“At the end of the program they can have a $2,000 bike,” Cervantes said. “So that's pretty attractive to a lot of kids.”
Youth diversion programs have a range of societal and individual benefits. Baez, the high school student, said he's seen progress.
"I have a friend in the program who, you know, was a little troubled in the past," Baez explained, saying the friend didn't know if he'd graduate. "But then he met Mr. C., he met the program and got involved, and now, you know, he's got his high school diploma. The other day he was talking about maybe going to community college, and now he's got a good job."
Baez voluntarily takes part in Lowriding 2 Success.
"I like the unity, you know, we all come from different backgrounds, different things, but we all laugh the same way at the end of the day," Baez said.
Baez wants to go to college for accounting. Even though his bike should be finished, he plans to continue helping with the program.
"He's already helping mentoring our students there," Cervantes said. "He's our mechanic. He knows about tools and how to use them. So he's taking on a leadership role already."
"This is my way of helping others the same way I would have wished that my friends could have been helped," Baez said.
- Martin Cervantes, founder, Lowriding 2 Success
- Adrienne Gilchrist, employee, Wyandotte's Juvenile Corrections
- Neyzer Camargo Baez, program participant, Lowriding 2 Success