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Urban Health Accelerator


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Kathryn Doornbos, Redemptive Cycles

Photo of Kathryn Doornbos, Redemptive Cycles

Kathryn Doornbos
Redemptive Cycles
Birmingham, AL

Facilitating bicycle ownership as a bridge to independence, employment, community-involvement and physical health for low-income and homeless clients.

Graduate school was the penultimate goal of my life. I dreamed of those 3 little letters (Ph.D.) as an addendum to my name – I thought they would bring inner peace, happiness and my life’s purpose.

Fast forward to 3 years into my (ultimately) 5.5 year Ph.D. program. I had worked myself sick physically and mentally. I had lost touch with my life’s purpose and with how to find joy in my everyday. I was as lost as I had ever been. I did a fair amount of soul searching during this time and, admittedly, I toyed with the idea of quitting my grad program for a brief period. I sat down at my lab bench one day, just adjacent to a window overlooking the street and I realized how distant the work I was doing was from anyone or anything on the street below me. Perhaps not in a ‘eureka’ way, but over time I identified that disconnect was the root of my unhappiness. I was impatient in that I wanted to see – to really see – tangible results in the community surrounding me. I made the choice to finish my Ph.D. (because even if I never did bench science again it was something I wanted to accomplish and I knew it would teach me lessons well beyond Microbiology) but I also promised myself to never get so distant from who I was helping. My science will, eventually, help people – there is no question. But it will be 25 years before the first patient gets the first drug based on many other people’s work and mine. And, while I might have grit – I know that my time and talents can affect real change in more immediate ways in my community. It won’t be overnight. And it won’t be easy or simple or without its own stresses. But it will be (and has been) vastly quicker to implement, revise, and repeat programs that directly improve people’s lives than science ever was.

At Redemptive Cycles we want our customers to empower themselves with a bicycle and thereby catalyze a cascade of positive changes in their life. We know that this empowerment looks different for each and every one of our customers. For one, it may be that the bike ultimately helps them attain and retain gainful employment. For another, it may be that the bike enables them to liberate hours of time that they spent on an inefficient bus commute. For a third, it might mean experiencing the simple joy of riding a bike amidst an otherwise stressful life. For a fourth, the bike may be an excuse to come see us daily for little adjustments that disguise the formation of new friendships and trust. We want our customers to be successful and happy in their lives but we don’t want to prescribe one solution for that – we want them to use the bike they earn as a tool to amplify their current and future successes.

Thank you to the EmPOWERED To Serve Urban Health Accelerator™ in-kind sponsors for providing mentorship and access to technology: