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Young Bloods: RUBARB

Chris Riggleman and Darren Knox

Photographed by Cheryl Gerber

New Orleanians and bicycles go together like grits and grillades – they’re a perfect pair. After all, bicycles offer transportation, exercise and most importantly, fun. Fortunately, the RUBARB (Rusted Up Beyond All Recognition Bikes) organization provides an opportunity for New Orleans citizens of all ages to experience the joys of bike ownership.

Born in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, RUBARB grew out of the 2006 rebuilding efforts. Volunteers salvaged flooded bicycles from debris piles, restored the machines to their former glory and donated the functional bikes to residents in need. Given the level of debris and disorder following Katrina, the bicycles provided residents with a welcome form of transportation. Thus, with the help of dedicated volunteers such as AmeriCorps member Liz Lichtman, RUBARB soon gained recognition for its positive efforts with Upper 9th Ward residents.

As New Orleans regained its footing in recent years, RUBARB has focused more on children. With its funky artwork, vivid murals and colorful bikes, the RUBARB residence is equal parts workshop and playhouse. With lessons on proper bike maintenance and safety, RUBARB volunteers teach children about bicycles from the ground-up.

RUBARB’s popular Earn-a-Bike program encourages students to work their way into bike ownership. First, the students learn about bike maintenance basics, such as how to fix a flat tire or repair broken brackets. Next, students are asked to help beautify the RUBARB residence by contributing artwork or organizing bike parts. Then, students can take home their restored bicycles to enjoy. By choosing a bike, repairing it and contributing back to the shop, a young cyclist can gain a sense of responsibility and ownership – along with a nice set of wheels.

When Chris Riggleman first moved to New Orleans, he didn’t know anyone in town. Volunteering with RUBARB helped him connect with locals and inspired him to take a job in education. Riggleman now enjoys “sharing a lot of life moments” with the kids and volunteers.

New volunteers are always needed. RUBARB is open Monday and Wednesday from 3-7 p.m., as well as Saturday from 2-6 p.m. No skills are necessary – the current staff can teach new volunteers all about bicycle maintenance.

The bulk of RUBARB’s donations are generated at the organization’s annual March fundraiser. Past events have been held at John Paul’s on Elysian Fields and at Maison. Attendees can enjoy live music, a shadow puppet show and a live auction. Local artists are welcome to donate their work to the benefit auction.

To donate or to learn more, visit their website: RubarBike.com


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