Name of Innovative Program:
Gearing Up, A Bicycle Program for Women in Transition
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Since May 2009 Gearing Up (www.gearing-up.org) has been providing women in transition from abuse, addiction, and incarceration with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth. Gearing Up takes an innovative approach to addressing weight gain, social isolation, depression and anxiety - just some of the many challenges women face while recovering from trauma associated with abuse and addiction, and preparing to re-enter society. As a compliment to intensive trauma treatment, Gearing Up leverages the power of the bicycle as a tool for physical, emotional and social health. While there are other programs for individuals who are incarcerated and a recipient of social services, Gearing Up is one of a kind, serving a population of women often lacking special services, specifically those that promote exercise and opportunities to create new, healthy social communities, a critical part of successful recovery and re-integration.
Creativity and Innovation:
Criminal justice and social services are often structured under a minimally holistic approach, often temporarily isolating women from many of the triggers and sources of trauma, while concurrently exasperating symptoms of isolation, anger, depression, anxiety directly correlated with addiction and cause of incarceration. For women with histories of abuse, addiction and incarceration to make long-lasting change, she needs to establish a healthy and safe lifestyle in which she identifies meaning and not solely isolation her from her past. With fleets of bikes at women’s recovery and re-entry homes in Philadelphia, and 20 indoor cycling bicycles at the Philadelphia County Women’s Prison, Gearing Up provides opportunities for women to be “normal” and learn the skills to safely ride a bicycle as a means of transportation, in a group for physical and social health, or independently to fill those moments of boredom and depression.
Through our efforts, a County Judge has celebrated accomplishment and success with a woman who brought her bicycle into the court room, and as the Gearing Up graduate spoke about what her experiences on a bicycle meant to her, everyone “got it” –how programs and efforts for holistic treatment can - and are – changing the quality of life for women in transition. Gearing Up has told the “story” of how a bicycle is an effective tool for community integration, physical health, and emotional stability and is becoming a force to raising awareness of the benefits of holistic treatment. As an emerging leader in the field of behavioral health in Greater Philadelphia, Gearing Up is advocating for a shift in treatment and sentencing for women – and working with existing partners in the criminal justice and social service sectors to recognize alternative options for re-entry and re-integration.
With a fleet of bicycles, helmets, safety vests, and a floor pump at each partner program, Gearing Up is fully equipped to go the distance in partnership with each program. Efforts are supported with nominal budgets that provide women to participate in bicycle rides approximately 3 times per week, collectively pedaling thousands of miles each year. Gearing Up invests in staff and professional development to continue to enrich our program. Organizationally the program is sustainable in partnership with a community organization that values and believes in the Gearing Up mission. For Gearing Up graduates, the impact of the program is sustainable. Women graduate as bicycle owners and prepare to independently transition back in to society with a tool in their hands and the mastery of the skills to safely ride and manage physical, emotional and social health.
Gearing Up has established a model that successfully works in the context of the Philadelphia criminal justice system, operating in partnership with women’s recovery and re-entry homes, as well as with the Philadelphia County Women’s Prison. The culture and core values of Gearing Up are respected and demonstrated through staff and volunteer interactions with community partners, criminal justice partners, and most importantly, women enrolled in the program. Additionally, Gearing Up has established a program that addresses and meets the needs of our target population, women in transition, bringing awareness and effort to the physical, emotional and social power of the bicycle. Through identifying the culture and needs of our community partners from the structures of our local criminal justice and social services systems, to the individual needs of women in Philadelphia County Gearing Up has been successful in meeting our mission. By building off of the Gearing Up model, core values, and basic structure, and identifying the culture and needs of other communities, Gearing Up is a replicable program that meets the physical, emotional, and social needs of women in transition.
Data from the past years has shown that women involved with Gearing Up are engaging in physical activity more often and for longer periods of time. They also demonstrate that women participating in Gearing Up have a perceived improvement in levels of their general health. Qualitatively, women report a sense of community and a belief in their ability to complete things (self-efficacy). Additionally, the Gearing Up program has been established at the Philadelphia County Women’s Prison enrolling women in moderate physical activity for two hours per week. Gearing Up started collecting weight data in July 2011 and has collected pre- and post-weight from 57 women, 29 of whom have graduated from the program. Women who graduated (completed at least 14 sessions in 8-weeks) gain less than a pound (.90) while those who didn’t graduate (completed less than 80% of classes in 8-weeks) gain more than 5 pounds (5.3).