Objective: To promote physical health and foster self esteem in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) youth and their supporters through mountain biking.
In a Nutshell: Bike Out organizes daylong and multi-day mountain biking trips for its youth members. The trips include workshops on HIV/AIDS prevention, the environment and other topics.
Where It Happens: Bike Out’s office and bike storage are in the Venice section of Los Angeles. Bike trips are within the state, with most trips taking youth to the Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island and Mammoth Mountain.
When It Began: March 1999. Using borrowed bicycles, the first ride was along the beach bike path in Venice with youth from the Eagles Academy, a public high school in Los Angeles for LGBT youth.
Who Started It: Andrea Askowitz, the program’s founder and executive director. A former political organizer and fund-raiser, as well as an avid biker, she started Bike Out to give LGBT youth the chance to benefit from the physical, emotional and mental challenges of an Outward Bound-style program.
Who Runs It: In addition to Askowitz, Bike Out is staffed by Program Director Becca Louisell and Program Associate Karina Enriquez, who began as a Bike Out youth participant. In the past two years Bike Out has trained 22 trip leaders, both youth and adult, who are paid small stipends. Bike Out also includes about 15 youth as members of its organizational, advisory and
Early Obstacles: It was difficult to make funders understand how Bike Out fit into their funding missions. “Foundations did not always see how a multi-faceted program fit their sometimes narrowly focused funding guidelines,” Louisell says. Attracting participants and finding adequate office space was also a challenge.
How They Overcame Them: Meeting directly with potential funders let Askowitz make the case for Bike Out. The addition of Louisell and Enriquez to the staff allowed the organization to concentrate on outreach, visiting gay youth conferences in Northern and Southern California as well as the offices of smaller gay youth-serving groups. A local nonprofit named Community Outreach for Prevention and Education provided Bike Out with low-rent office space through next fall.
Cost: This year’s budget is about $100,000. Participants pay $20 per trip, a fee that Louisell says is often waived for underprivileged youth.
Who Pays: Top donors are the California Endowment ($25,000) and the Liberty Hill ($10,000) and David Bohnett ($10,000) foundations.
Who Else Has Kicked In: The Washington-based Office of Minority Health Resource Center, the David Geffen Foundation, clothing manufacturer Patagonia and local bike shops Palm Cycles and Helen’s Cycles.
Youth Served: Bike Out targets LGBT youth between the ages of 14 and 23, but is open to all youth. (Louisell says trips will often include a few straight kids.) Sixty-five percent of Bike Out youth are Latino, while black, white and Asian youth each comprise about 10 percent of the group’s participants.
Youth Turn-On: The adventure of mountain biking and seeing new scenery in a social atmosphere allows gay youth to meet and hang out with each other.
Youth Turn-Off: Louisell says the culture shocks involved in bringing city kids into nature – “bugs, dirt, hard work, eating food that they’re not used to” – typically elicit a few grumbles on each trip.
Research Shows: There is no independent research yet on the organization. This year, Bike Out began interviewing participants by telephone six months and one year after their trips. Of youth who were interviewed in both rounds, 100 percent said they feel more confident as a result of participating in Bike Out, and 90 percent are committed to exercising to stay healthy. One hundred percent say they learned to be less judgmental of others, and 50 percent became inspired and empowered to work for social change in their communities.
What Still Gets in theWay: Getting youth to the trips remains difficult, Louisell says, because transportation in Los Angeles County and Southern California is so unpredictable. “It would be great if we could afford a passenger van to be able to pick up youth and bring them to trips,” she says. The organization is also looking for a better site to store and repair bikes.