Greenville has become renowned for its cycling community. It seems like every day I meet another individual who is a cycling enthusiast. It’s no secret that the Swamp Rabbit trail has played a huge part in that. As I continue my adventure in the Village of West Greenville, I just had to learn more about The Village Wrench.
Generally, as you know, It’s Greenville focuses on the individual behind the business, the entrepreneur and business owner. Wes Whitesell was one of the pivotal minds behind The Village Wrench’s birth and he plays a pivotal part in running the show. During our conversation, however, he made sure that I knew The Village Wrench has been a community effort from the beginning.
It all started as an outreach with Wes’ church in 2014. Their first site was in the backyard of West Greenville Baptist Church. While Wes and his wife had been dedicating their time to the Village for 10 years. Little by little individuals and communities reached out to help the project come to full fruition. The Village Wrench brick and mortar shop opened up last summer on Lois Avenue in the heart of the village. It is now a registered 501c3 of Mill Community Ministries and is organized by The Village Church.
So, what exactly is The Village Wrench?
“We do three things,” Wes said. “The first is free bike repairs, really for anyone in Greenville, but particularly in The Village of West Greenville. Then we teach the ideas of hard work and responsibility through a bike earning initiative. Finally we do community development. There are many folks in West Greenville who do not have viable transportation needs. We feel that we are meeting a real need. ”
The Village Wrench is your bike shop. You can come in when they are open and use their tools and parts to repair or build your own bike. If you don’t have a bike, you can do eight hours of community service and they will give you a bike. For kids it’s only four hours of community service. They are an open space to anybody. It’s all free. You don’t have to spend a penny. You can have transportation for zero. Just put the tools back when you’re done, they will coach you on how to do it all.
“Right now the majority of our work isn’t even done in the shop,” Wes said. “We are currently running events on the first Saturday of the month in three different neighborhoods (Sullivan, San Souci, and The Village). People will show up from that neighborhood to work on their bikes. We invite everyone, bring music, bring food. Kids come out. It’s essentially block party. We’re hoping to add more neighborhoods this year.”
The Village Wrench works to create a bridge between the two very different villages of West Greenville. The booming commercial strip has people who shop at the Gap, but a block over there are some who can barely afford to shop at Goodwill. “Our goal is to work shoulder to shoulder with each culture and community and play a role in the slowing down of gentrification,” Wes said.
They want to provide that first job. “We want to hire three neighborhood kids to be working for us by the end of the year,” Wes said. “They will learn the hard skills of bike maintenance and the soft skills of managing yourself. Our budget is very low, all of the money we make goes to keeping the lights on and paying the neighborhood kids for their work. This is all about a lot of people doing a little amount of consistent work,” Wes said. “I don’t earn a penny from Village Wrench, I’ve never been a part of a volunteer organization that has been supported by so many different people.”
“This year we’d like to do at least three Six Cycle courses, which is a character and bike learning class,” Wes said. “We focus on doing only a few things and doing them really well. If someone comes along and wants to help expand, then they can help expand in their own way. That helps encourage other volunteers to come alongside of us.”
They also have a cycle club and a pro-team, who act as advocates of the Wrench and work to increase exposure for The Village.
So, would you like a free bike? Go volunteer and do some good in the community. Have your supervisor or someone other than yourself sign their paperwork stating that you have completed your hours and they will hook you up with ride. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. I’m currently in the process of earning my bike! I decided it’s about time I joined the club. What better way to get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and also give back to the community?