The "B" in "BWORKS" variously stands for Bicycle, Byte and Book, but the underlying principle is the same for all three divisions: Teach kids something, and then send them home with something else, either a bike, a computer or a copy of a book they wrote themselves.
Since 1988, BWORKS has operated out of three adjacent storefronts at the corner of Thurman and Shenandoah avenues in the Shaw neighborhood. That all changes starting next Sunday, August 7, when the whole operation will pack up and move to a new space in Soulard. The first phase of the migration, the BicycleWORKS portion, will be, logically enough, by bike: So far, 100 volunteers have been enlisted to pedal materials and supplies three miles to the new building at 2414 Menard.
Patrick Van Der Tuin, the director of operations and BWORKS' sole paid staff member, is very excited about the move. "A private donor purchased and refurbished the building for us," he says. "It was completely built to our specifications. It's an amazing space. We'll have dedicated classrooms and storage and work space. In the old building, we were always stepping over each other."
Currently, 300 kids, ages eight to eighteen, attend the free BWORKS programs, which last six to eight weeks. They come from all over the St. Louis metropolitan area, from as far away as East St. Louis and distant parts of St. Louis county. Van Der Tuin doesn't think the change in venue will affect attendance. "It will give us a lot of opportunities to work with more kids," he says.
Two weeks ago, there was a rash of break-ins at the Shaw building, but Van Der Tuin says that didn't affect BWORKS' plans at all; the move has been in the works since the organization received the donation two years ago. It took a year to find the Soulard building, a 13,000 square-foot former carriage house, and another year to refurbish it.
Not much will change after the move, says Van Der Tuin. BookWORKS, the organization book-publishing program, will have its official unveiling and, with any luck, BWORKS will be able to hire a second paid staff member, a teacher.
But right now, Van Der Tuin is just concentrating on the new space. "Things will be right where we need them to be."