Braking Cycles For Portland’s Homeless Youth

Braking Cycles For Portland’s Homeless Youth
Braking Cycles’ Coffee Bike serves cold-brew coffee at events across Portland.

There are currently over 450 homeless youth residing in Portland, Oregon, individuals who have had a rough start in life and need a helping hand transitioning into the world of self-sufficiency and successful employment. What better way to involve the Pacific Northwest community in helping our homeless youth than to incorporate the bikes, coffee and art we are famous for? That is just what Rhona Mahl was thinking when she founded the innovative non-profit, Braking Cycles.

Mahl has worked with Portland’s marginalized youth her entire career; youth caught in the cycles of abuse, poverty, addiction, homelessness and hopelessness. For the past five years, Mahl has been the acting Director of Outreach for Bert E. Waugh Jr.’s Transitional Youth, a non-profit organization that has been serving the community for the past 25 years. In 2013, during Mahl’s appointment as Director of Outreach with Transitional Youth, she began to consider the different elements of the program and saw a greater need for in-house job skills training.

“One of the greatest barriers for employment with these youth is that they don’t feel like they really have access to the process of employment. Even if it is just walking into a coffee shop and asking for an application,” Mahl explains. “There are a lot of barriers that keep these young people from employment. A lot of fears around the rejection they run into when they don’t have clean clothes or home address to list. It was in my heart to incorporate another layer to Transitional Youth, so I founded Braking Cycles and we merged with Transitional Youth in 2015.”

How did Mahl come up with the idea for Braking Cycles? “I looked at what Portland is famous for – bikes, coffee and art. Why not create a platform where our youth can learn job skills in-house, in a safe and structured environment, while tapping into Portland’s unique culture,” Mahl said. “So I launched my own 501 (c)(3) and started the process that way.”

Braking Cycles Coffee Bike

After only two years, Braking Cycles has established itself as a premier source of aid for Portland’s marginalized youth using unique and innovative means of community service. It all started with Braking Cycle’s Coffee Bike, a tricycle with a cold-brew coffee cart that was launched at the 2014 Annual Providence Bridge Pedal event. Braking Cycles hires youth to run the bikes, sell coffee and interact with customers. Providence Bridge Pedal spotlighted Coffee Bike again last year.

Braking Cycles has also partnered with local coffee roaster, Mark Johnson, of Portland’s Intent Coffee Roasting to create their own coffee blend, Braking Cycles Coffee, now sold to individuals and businesses to aid in raising funds for the program.

Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop

Braking Cycles latest endeavor is the January 1, 2017 launch of Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop. “This is a coffee house for the community where the youth can learn job skills onsite,” Mahl said. “We want it to be the kind of place that the community will enjoy, where the product is excellent and the atmosphere is great.”

Braking Cycles CoffeeBraking Cycles Coffee is available for purchase by individuals or business to help raise funds for Portland’s homeless and at-risk youth.

One unique aspect of Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop is the bike maintenance service, where cyclists can get their bikes tuned up while they enjoy a cup of coffee. The youth will serve as the bike mechanics and baristas, providing yet another form of onsite training. The proceeds of the Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop will go to opening up a girls’ home where girls can live for one year and transition into a new life in the community.

Braking Cycles Bike Incentive Program

Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop is part of the Braking Cycles’ Bike Incentive Program, which offers bikes to youth who have acquired jobs, are going to school, or who help to assemble a bike for the program. Youth will also be able to earn a bike by working at the Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop for a certain number of hours.

How Can You Support Braking Cycles?

“We are always looking for people to sponsor a meal once a month and are always in need of coats, blankets, duffel bags and other supplies,” Mahl said. People can volunteer as individuals or use the opportunity as a team building exercise, with teams coming to serve from their place of employment, family, church or other organization. Braking Cycles asks volunteers for a one-year commitment to volunteer once a month. They can help serve meals and hand out supplies on Monday or Thursday nights in downtown Portland.

Braking Cycles Bike Incentive ProgramBraking Cycles’ Bike Incentive Program supplies bicycles to Portland’s youth who need transportation for work or school.

Another way to get involved is through Braking Cycles’ Thanksgiving Day Celebration, held at the Crystal Ballroom - who gifted their space to Braking Cycles for the special occasion. The Thanksgiving festivities include a fully catered meal and live music. It offers donated formal dresses and suits along with a team of beauticians and hairstylists so the kids can dress up for the formal event.

Braking Cycles also serves Christmas on December 22nd at the First Presbyterian Church on 12th and Alder in Downtown Portland. “We serve and provide for about 75 youth and are asking for donated gifts and help with handing out gifts and serving meals,” Mahl said. “People often set up a Giving Tree or donation barrel in their lobby to collect donations.”

Braking Cycles Penny Drive

Braking Cycles is currently running a penny drive to help raise pennies that will be used to tile the floor of the Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop. As a 12 x 12 tile takes 234 pennies, Braking Cycles is asking that members of the community hold penny drives in their places of employment, churches, clubs, even within their own families. In addition, people who chose to sponsor a tile for $500 will have their name displayed on a copper plate mounted in the Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop as a “Founding Sponser.”

Braking Grounds Coffe and Bike ShopsBraking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop’s penny tile floor demonstrates the value in every member of Portland’s homeless youth.

“The penny is an icon that we use comparison with the youth that we serve,” Mahl explains. “Many times, people disregard homeless youth. They walk past them, they step over them, they don’t value them, they don’t see any redemption there. It’s the same with pennies. People step over them, throw them away and don’t see the value. We use the penny as a symbol to hopefully change people’s minds.”

“The fact that I can dream up an organization like Braking Cycles and launch it under the umbrella of Bert Waugh’s program is amazing,” Mahl said. “To have the endorsement and support of Transitional Youth in this vision for the Braking Grounds Coffee and Bike Shop for youth is tremendous.”

To learn more about how you can help, contact Rhona Mahl, Director of Braking Cycles and Outreach Director at Transitional Youth, at 503-505-2919 or by email at [hidden email]. Discover more about Braking Cycles at and Transitional Youth at

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