August 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A flying saucer landed on 1818 Dodge Street. The white circular structure with tall windows appears ready for takeoff to another planet.

Maybe Mercury.

It is rumored to have been intended to look like Mercury’s helmet. The building was first designed for Omaha National Bank, so it seems a good possibility. Mercury is, after all, the Roman god of financial gain.

Bike-Union1Others believe architect Nes Latenser wanted something futuristic when the “UFO” first emerged on Dodge back in the 1960s. Far-out and groovy things, such as a man landing on the moon, made anything otherworldly imaginable.

Today, this alien structure holds something far more valuable than money—heart.

Miah Sommer invaded the space to open a bike and coffee shop. In the center, the small spherical space is perfectly divided. To the right, anyone can grab a cup of joe while getting a bike repaired to the left. The ceiling is fanned out with bright lights, a bit like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Racing and mountain bikes frame the calming blue walls.

Yet, this isn’t just any coffee/bike shop. Sommer launched the Bike Union in 2014 as a way to mentor at-risk youth who have aged out of the foster system.

It is a place where former foster kids can mend their bruised and broken wings. Sommer acts as a mentor to ensure these young adults gain the necessary skills to achieve their goals.

Sommer has three males and one female under his guidance between the ages of 17 and 23.

According to Jim Casey of Youth Opportunities Initiative, one in five foster kids will become homeless and only half will be employed at age 24. Sommer says three of his former foster kids were not working or receiving an education, and it is something he wanted to change.

BikeUnion3Instead of fending for themselves, each member has been learning a mix of technical and soft skills while earning a paycheck and financial mentoring, 20 hours a week, for a year. Cooking classes, mindfulness training, and a book club round out the education.

“If you want to make a positive change, it requires attention,” Sommer believes.

Take Bre Walker, 21.

A so-called “crack baby” as an infant, Walker headed straight into foster care with emotional and physical problems looming over her tiny shoulders. Walker’s life became a cycle of drifting from home to home—25 or 30 in all. She never unpacked.

“It’s scary. You never know if you are ever going to have a place to lay your head,” she says.

When she aged out at 19, Walker had nowhere to go. After couch surfing and other housing attempts failed, she received help from Youth Emergency Services and Project Employment. Walker began working at the Bike Union in January.

She was failing two classes at Metropolitan Community College. Then, with tutoring help from Bike Union mentors, she turned her grades around. In her recent class, she earned her first A. Mostly though, it was just finding people who believed in her.

“They have faith in me. (Sommer) is more of a father figure than a manager. He wants the best for us,” Walker says.

When her year is up, Walker thinks she will be sad rather than scared. Most importantly, she will have the confidence to walk out the door.

“I live down the street, so they can’t get rid of me completely,” Walker says laughing.

Visit thebikeunion.org for more information. B2B

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