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Jeremy Brotherton, left, disassembles a donated bicycle with Cool Water Bikes manager Noah Sutherland.  Cool Water Bikes teaches bicycle repair to struggling and homeless young people and gives them a chance to earn a bike of their own.  (Colin Mulvany)
Jeremy Brotherton, left, disassembles a donated bicycle with Cool Water Bikes manager Noah Sutherland. Cool Water Bikes teaches bicycle repair to struggling and homeless young people and gives them a chance to earn a bike of their own. (Colin Mulvany)

Giving life a positive spin

Cool Water Bikes helps struggling young people develop skill, confidence

Sitting in jail, Jeremy Brotherton had plenty of time to reflect on his life. He realized it was time to take it in a different direction.

Cool Water Bikes – a subsidiary of Cup of Cool Water, a ministry for struggling and homeless teens and young adults in downtown Spokane – is helping him do just that.

Founded in 2008, the program allows homeless young people to work in the shop to earn a refurbished, donated bicycle, which are also for sale to the public. As of Friday, Brotherton had completed six of the 10 hours required to earn a bike of his own.

But the program does more than teach about bicycle mechanics.

“It’s helping the kids to see they can take ownership over their whole lives,” said Noah Sutherland, Cool Water Bikes manager. “It can give them ownership in pursuing truth and goodness in their lives.”

A homeless alcoholic with a nearly nonexistent support system, Brotherton, 22, has been living on the fringes of society. He started drinking at the age of 16 and became “really, severely bad into alcohol,” he said.

His latest stint in jail was a nearly monthlong sentence for residential burglary, third-degree domestic violence-malicious mischief and fourth-degree domestic violence-assault. In 2008, he also served some time for domestic violence-assault. He became a victim of a crime in May when he was kidnapped, assaulted and robbed.

He recalled sitting in his cell in Spokane County Jail and thinking, “I’m sick of drinking. I’m sick of this lifestyle. I’m sick of being sick and tired.”

“When I was in there, I was thinking, ‘This alcohol is causing a lot of problems,’ ” he said.

Brotherton, who has been staying at the Union Gospel Mission for about a month and visiting Cup of Cool Water during operating hours, said he had a rough childhood and little family support. Most of his relatives are in Seattle and he has a strained relationship with his only family member in town, his mom. But his mentors at Cup of Cool Water act as his safety net, providing a haven from a street life marred by crime and alcohol abuse.

Sutherland is one of those mentors. He has been teaching Brotherton and other young people the ins and outs of bicycle repair in Cool Water’s cramped, full-service bike shop.

Sutherland said the program allows mentors and youths to build strong relationships, while teaching practical skills and the reward of setting, pursuing and achieving a goal while serving others. It can give young people some stability in otherwise chaotic lives, he said.

Brotherton said working on the bikes helps him stay on the right path and offers a rewarding experience instead of the destructive ones he’s used to.

“I’ll feel good about myself that I did something but drink,” he said of earning his own bike. “It’s interesting. It keeps me busy.”

Having quickly outgrown its current location, Cool Water Bikes is finalizing a lease for a new shop. Sutherland said he hopes to move in to the shop by March.

He said the new location, a storefront on Howard Street, will provide more space and make the store more visible to the public. Sutherland also hopes to create a paid internship at the shop to teach young people more about bicycle repair, sales and general business skills that will help them land jobs.

“I think we can have more grace with them when they’re learning than just throwing them out into the job world,” he said.

Although Brotherton can no longer use Cup of Cool Water services when he turns 23 in April, he said he has already come a long way.

“I feel better, mentally and physically,” he said. “My shakes are starting to go down. I feel better all around.”

Brotherton said he has been sober for a month and is working on getting into a treatment program. He’s not building a better life one step at a time. He’s building a better life one bicycle at a time.

“It’s a miracle,” he said of his newfound sobriety. “I’m proud of myself. I’m trying to get myself a better lifestyle.”


 

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