If you ask Kaitlin Joerger about the work she does for New Orleans cycling advocacy group Bike Easy, she’ll play it down, tell you she’s just a volunteer who comes in on Fridays, just doing data entry, just doing the “busywork” that the nonprofit’s staff doesn’t have time for. Then she’ll tell you how wonderful the organization is, and what they’re cooking up next.
Well, Bike Easy is a wonderful organization (more in a second), and they are cooking up a very cool Youth Bike Rodeo workshop series for this spring and summer (more in a second), but it seems important to first take a moment to celebrate the behind-the-scenes workhorses of community activism. The Kaitlin Joergers of the ioby community.
Joerger initially got involved with Bike Easy because she’d just moved to New Orleans to town and was working entirely from home. Her office of one, though, was not cutting it. “I bike a lot and I enjoy biking, and also I needed to have some more human contact in my week,” she says. “I’d come from DC, and their biking situation has gone crazy. I think in the time I lived there, they put in over 50 miles of bike lanes. I’ve always been interested in transportation policy, so I contacted this organization called Ride New Orleans, which is an advocacy group, and met with a leader there, and she told me to talk to the director of Bike Easy. She said they were always looking for volunteers. So I started working with them, and they’re fun people.”
A patent examiner by trade, Joerger is nothing if not detail-oriented. She recently spent an entire decade of her career focused solely on the tiny pieces of machinery that move printer paper from the stack down into the printer itself. “Everything under the sun is patented,” Joerger says, “so we have a very subdivided office. I used to work on a very small area: paper feeding and delivery, so literally any piece of paper that was moved from a stack of paper in a printer, off of the stack and into the printer. That’s all I would look at, and I did that for about ten years.”
Only when pressed will she admit that that kind of work ethic and capacity for attention to detail could, possibly, be of huge value to the nonprofit where she’s “just” the data-entry volunteer who comes in Fridays. “I mean, there’s only two people who are on staff at Bike Easy,” she says, “and a lot of the time it’s just all the little things that they just don’t have time for. So that’s where I as a volunteer can come in and I’ll go and help enter new members into their giant member database and clear out old members who aren’t involved anymore, and fix email addresses. Which is just something that if you’re working for a nonprofit with a staff of two, you don’t have time for all that busywork. But I like that kind of stuff.
The golden moment of community activism, isn’t it? When what needs getting done – the thing no one has time for – is exactly the kind of thing the new volunteer happens to like to work on?
Okay, now let’s talk about Bike Easy’s awesome new project and ioby campaign:
In the two years since she arrived, Joerger has watched the New Orleans cycling community start to take root in the city. “It’s definitely growing,” she says. “Our streets are not that great in terms of potholes and such, but basically Bike Easy does a great job of advocating for bike lanes. Kind of anytime there’s a street project going on – a re-pavement or whatever – Bike Easy will advocate for getting bike lanes put in on major thoroughfares, so it’s getting a lot more connected via the bike lane system, which is great. It’s grown immensely since I’ve been here.”
Since these resources are so new, though, lots of kids whose parents don’t bike are now growing up in a city where cycling will increasingly be an option. Joerger and her teammates want to ensure that, in the absence of parents who can teach them the rules of the road, kids are getting the road-prep they need to keep them safe. “We want to make sure we educate the kids who are just starting to bike but may not have anyone to teach them,” says Joerger.
Enter Youth Bike Rodeos: playful workshops run by Bike Easy, in partnership with New Orleans charter schools. Think relay races, games, and obstacle courses that aim to teach good bike safety and preparedness. Bike Easy recently ran two experimental rodeos, which were a huge success on all fronts. The kids showed up in droves and loved them so much that lots more charter schools signed on to participate in a next round. Ten more schools are lined up for rodeos this spring and summer.
Everything’s in place – but there’s just one problem. There aren’t enough bikes to go around. “A lot of kids show up to the workshops but don’t have a bike,” says Joerger, “and so then they have to share with the kids who do, and it doesn’t work out as well as if we had our own fleet of bikes that are all the same and we know they’re well maintained.”
So Joerger and her team are raising the money they need to buy a fleet of 15 bikes and 30 helmets through a local bike shop, which has already agreed to give the nonprofit a good discount. If you’d like to donate to help outfit some burgeoning New Orleans cyclists, click here, and rest assured that the new Bike Easy fleet will be put to excellent use in the coming years – the team has big plans to expand the program, reaching more and more schools as New Orleans becomes ever more bike-friendly.