Anderson, Indiana

AU alum Ben Orcutt uses bicycles for education

Mon, 2011-12-05 08:00 -- univcomm
December 5, 2011

In the beginning, there were two guys, one wrench, one multi-tool and one passion: bicycles. Five years later, that hobby of repairing bicycles became the Shadeland Bicycle Collective, headed by Anderson University alum Ben Orcutt. The collective is a nonprofit organization that helps Anderson community members repair bicycles and teaches them how to fix bikes themselves.

orcutt2Orcutt and a friend began the Shadeland Bicycle Collective in the fall of 2008 in a classroom at Shadeland Elementary School. After his graduation in May 2011 with a fine arts studio major, Orcutt turned all of his attention to the Shadeland Bicycle Collective. Through donations and word of mouth, the collective grew into a full nonprofit organization, complete with professional bicycle repair tools, stands, an official logo, a website, and a new location on West 11th Street in Anderson. The collective held its grand opening on Oct. 22, 2011. [Photo on left: Ben Orcutt talks with Kris and Lisa Stevens at the grand opening for his bike collective.]

The collective functions as an educator, an advocator, and a repair service — with priorities in that order. “We run a full-service repair shop like any bike shop does,” said Orcutt. “The main difference is that we do that so we can fund what we do with the rest of our time, which is primarily education. You have a membership to the shop and that membership gives you access to all the tools, equipment, repair manuals, and knowledge of the other people in the room with the intent to repair your own bicycle. The whole project is empowering people to maintain their own form of transportation.”

[Watch an interview with Ben Orcutt during the Anderson University Homecoming 2011 Webcast.]

Since education is the goal, Orcutt works with various other organizations, such as the Cub Scouts, the Park Place after-school program, and the Christian Center. “For example, the Park Place after-school program has different clubs for the kids. There’s an art club, a reading club, a sports club, and then there’s a bike club. They have kids sign up to work directly with me,” said Orcutt. “We strip [the bicycle] all the way down, and we learn all the names of the parts and what they do. We clean it all, and then we repaint the frame and rebuild it all clean and new. It’s pretty cool because the kids get to see everything completely disassembled and their own ability to rebuild it and make it look completely new.”

Orcutt enjoys teaching children, along with encouraging people in homeless shelters and drug and rehabilitation transition homes. “All of those places are filled with people that don’t have a lot of control over things in their own life,” said Orcutt. “They’re told what to do a lot of the time. We found that giving people the ability to control just one little thing in their life, like transportation, has a really big impact on their self-esteem. That is the goal, and we get to that through a variety of bicycle-related means.”

The bicycle collective is part of a larger nonprofit organization, The Shadeland Project, which also includes a thrift store and an after-school program. Many of the people who started The Shadeland Project also attend church at The Mercy House, the same church Orcutt attends. “We’ve always believed in the bike collective,” said Matt Connor, senior pastor at The Mercy House. “Our ministry philosophy is that we support whatever the people in the church dream up.”

Advocacy for bicycles is another goal of the collective. Orcutt is working with the Madison County Council of Governments — specifically with the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator of Madison County. The objective is to lower the number of cars and other polluting vehicles on the road and to increase the number of bicycles.

“The collective is a beautiful mission on every level: helping the environment, supporting healthy lifestyles, empowering people to own their own transportation, and building community,” said Connor. “Riding bicycles helps in so many ways, even in terms of being aware of all aspects of your neighborhood and community versus driving with no concern for the space between.”

Experiences at the church and at AU have prepared Orcutt for his new role at the bicycle collective. “The thing I learned in college is figuring out how to do something on my own. If I don’t know how to do something, I know how to figure it out,” he said. “When I came to this campus, everything I wanted to do didn’t exist here. My group of friends and I realized if we want something to happen, we have to do it for ourselves. And through that, I feel like I have a confidence to just go for it.”

Connor agrees, saying he has seen the same changes in Orcutt. “I believe the art department at AU taught Ben a special do-it-yourself work ethic and ingenuity that allowed him to feel like he could also do the same with his life. His mission has been one great art project of making old things new and bringing something into existence that was previously only in his head.”

Following graduation, Orcutt chose to stay in Anderson to continue pursuing the Shadeland Bicycle Collective. “People talk about trying to do missions somewhere, trying to save the world somewhere else,” Orcutt said. “But nearly all of the kids in this city are on free or reduced lunch. The graduation rate is around 60 percent. If anybody needs help, this town needs help. I think there are too many people who are ignoring what’s already happening in their own backyard.

“There was a guy we worked with at the Christian Center. He was young — 18 or 19 — and he had never graduated from high school. He grew up in what I gathered to be an incredibly abusive home, and he had mental issues. But he learned how to take the chain off of a bike and fix it with a chain breaker tool. So every time someone would come in to the shop needing their chain fixed, I would send them over to him. He was really nervous at first to show somebody else how to do it. But I think that was the first time he had ever taught somebody else something successfully and I could tell that was a really big deal for him. That was when I decided that this project was worth pursuing.”

— Alyssa Applegate is a senior from Dayton, Ohio, majoring in communication arts and minoring in Spanish. Applegate is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.