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Interview with Ryen, Youth Staff

Updates / News

We’d like to extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude for Ryen, one of our youth mechanics at Street Level Cycles. After several years at Waterside, Ryen recently spent her last week with us before leaving to study at Howard University.

Ryen left a positive impact on so many of us during her time here. In celebration of Ryen’s accomplishments, we invite you to read a brief interview about her experiences with Waterside and her plans for the future.

How long have you been with Waterside Workshops, and what initially drew you to working here?

I’ve been working at Waterside for a little over two years. At first I was an intern through Richmond YouthWorks, and I eventually became a youth staff. I started right at the beginning of the pandemic in the summer of 2020. It was crazy thinking about going back into the world already when some people were still at home.

At first I was supposed to work at a daycare center by my house, but it was too much to think about dealing with kids. I couldn’t deal with kids all day, every day. So I decided to work here, especially since it was close to Berkeley High School. I’m always in Berkeley, and it was close to what I’m familiar with. I had never actually worked with bikes before, and I thought it would be interesting and that I might as well give it a shot.

Could you share about some of the different roles and responsibilities you’ve had as an intern and youth staff over the years?

When I first started, I knew nothing about bikes. The only thing I knew was how to ride one, which I taught myself how to do at my sister’s baby shower when I was six years old. I could snap a chain back on if it popped off, but that’s the all I really knew about bikes.

When I came here, I was taught by Cat, who taught me pretty much everything I needed to know. I got help from other coworkers, too, but my main mentor was Cat. She was with me every day, and she used to teach me all about bikes while we’d have conversations about random things.

I think what was beneficial about learning from Cat is she would really break things down in ways that were relatable and easy to understand. She made it easy to figure out how bikes worked and how to identify the different parts.

Actually, I remember that on my very first day, I was interning with the boat shop, just for that one day. We helped the fence by the shed, and that was fun! I don’t think I’d do it again, but it was fun knowing that I was able to build something out of nothing.

 What would you say are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned or skills you’ve developed from your time here?

 I’ve definitely learned how to communicate more. I didn’t really used to communicate that well, but now I know if I’m going to be late or out one day, I know to let people know ahead of time so we’re not leaving anyone else hanging.

I also learned to check my email. A lot of people my age don’t think that it’s too important, but checking every day is very beneficial because I could be losing so many opportunities if I’m not checking my email. My school email that I had at Berkeley High was always flooded so I never used to check it. But after starting at Waterside, I’d start checking to see updates about COVID and other things we needed to do. Now I check it routinely every morning just to see what’s in my email.

What advice would you give to our new youth interns who are just starting with us?

I would say 110% say to them to be yourself. No one is here to judge you, they’re here to teach you and to adapt to how you learn. When I was first starting as an intern, I was really quiet at first. I would recommend opening up by having a little conversation with somebody, because otherwise you never know if you might become close to the people you work with, even if you assume you won’t.

Also, don’t be intimidated by all the new things you’re learning. It helps to ask questions, and it’s fine even if it takes you a little longer. For example, I know that I’ve had so much trouble with cranks and bottom brackets on bikes. That’s still my iffy spot. But I would always ask questions to different coworkers to see if maybe their strategy works for me.

What’s next for you? Could you share about your future plans?

I’m going to Howard University in Washington DC, which is an HBCU. I’m studying political science and will be on a pre-law track. After undergrad, I probably will go to law school. I know there’s a lot of connections between Howard and the Ivy League law schools, so I may want to go to one of those schools instead of an HBCU so that I can step out of my comfort zone. I want to be able to talk to people with different beliefs and backgrounds so that I know how to handle conflict without getting mad or getting upset at people who are different from me.

After law school, I want to become a family or criminal lawyer because I want to help out communities who don’t have the money to afford lawyers. I know it’s very beneficial to have a lawyer who is there to help you and isn’t just there for the money. A lot of public defenders don’t have the time to actually dive deep into cases because they have so many cases assigned to them. I don’t want to be a lawyer for the money, but to help out people who need it, like underrepresented Black and brown communities.

What has been your favorite part of working at Waterside? What do you hope to remember about your experience years from now?

My favorite part is the conversations you have with people. Every day is a whole new topic or lesson, and it’s always something totally different that I never knew before. I’m constantly listening to my coworkers and thinking, “Wow, this is cool!” They’re just always helping to educate me.  Even the customers are fun to talk with because you get to learn about new things that are really interesting.

One thing I hope to remember from my time at Waterside is that there will always be people to help you. You can find a family or a community wherever you go, and you just have to remember to use that resource wisely.

Do you have any favorite memories or experiences you’d like to share?

I loved going on our Sunday group bike rides. We’d get here at 10:30am, and we’d go on a bike ride until around 12pm so we could be back to open the bike shop. It’s just such a fun experience because we got to ride different places and have team bonding time. I remember when I first started I used to not like the group rides because we’d go over steep hills, and I felt like I couldn’t do it. But once I got into it, it was really fun, especially getting over the hills and going down them.

The group rides also helped me go to different places I’d never been before, like the Albany Bulb or the Emeryville Marina. I had no idea the Emeryville Marina existed before we biked down there! You would never know all the places you can go to unless you actually ride your bike.