The Power of People: What I learned through the optiMize Fellowship

By: Andrew Westphal, Cohort V optiMize Summer Fellow

 Andrew works with optiMize Fellow Adarsh “Mish” Mishra during a “pop-up” bike repair session this summer

Andrew works with optiMize Fellow Adarsh “Mish” Mishra during a “pop-up” bike repair session this summer

As an optiMize Fellow this summer, I learned to appreciate the investment of people-power in projects. I also gained a new respect for the ability of a few local advocates and activists to convert inspiration into action and create valuable community resources.

Common Cycle, a bike co-op in Ann Arbor, began with Kickstarter funding in 2010, but our optiMize grant was the largest source of support since then. With the money, we were able to buy a new toolset and begin expanding our organization’s capacity to organize events. I learned, however, that investing time is much more valuable, and more difficult, than investing money. Most of the progress I made over the summer didn’t cost us any money. I selected a volunteer management software, wrote a press release and website content, researched potential homes for our nonprofit bike cooperative, and created presentations for property owners. I also coordinated the expansion of our bike distribution program by collecting, repairing, and distributing donated bikes to children and low-income individuals

 Andrew works with Common Cycle board member Ian, apprentice Simone, and a patron at Common Cycle’s typical mobile repair stand in Kerrytown.

Andrew works with Common Cycle board member Ian, apprentice Simone, and a patron at Common Cycle’s typical mobile repair stand in Kerrytown.

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that any problem can be solved by throwing money at it, but through the Fellowship, I saw that investing time, in the form of personal efforts on the project, is a much more effective recipe for success. That being said, I must acknowledge that time is money, and without the generous stipend from the optiMize Fellowship, my time available to work on the project would be limited to nights and weekends. The ability to drive change in the community is available to anyone, as long as they have the opportunity to explore their passions and structure their free time in a way that allows for innovation. I am very thankful that the optiMize Fellowship gave me this opportunity.

Going forward, Common Cycle will continue to help members of the community complete bike repairs. Thanks to our dedicated board members and loyal volunteer base, we have ample people-power to continue running our normal operations when I return to classes in the fall. Although we have not yet found a permanent home for our programming in Ann Arbor, our Mobile Repair Stand will continue break down barriers to bicycling and empower the local community to get outside and ride bikes.

 Common Cycle volunteers work during a special mobile repair stand for the optiMize Fellows cohort

Common Cycle volunteers work during a special mobile repair stand for the optiMize Fellows cohort

Andrew Westphal is a rising Senior at the University of Michigan studying Business Administration and German. As an Executive Board member on the local bike co-op, Common Cycle, Andrew has led community efforts to make Ann Arbor a more bicycle-friendly city. Through the optiMize Social Innovation Challenge during the school year, and the optiMize Fellowship this summer, Andrew was able to invest in the creation of a comprehensive administrative system for the non-profit, create stronger awareness about community bike repair opportunities, and begin facilitating the transition from mobile repair operations to a physical co-operative bike workshop. Andrew is also a member of the Campus Bike Club at the University of Michigan.

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