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Week 51: Craig Dodson

Dear Batter Up friends—meet Craig Dodson (center) and a couple of his team members from Richmond Cycling Corps (RCC)! These guys are riding their way into the hearts of kids all over Richmond by using cycling as a platform for change.

RCC was nominated by Jonah Holland. Here is what she had to say:

The work [Richmond Cycling Corps does] with kids is amazing. Life changing! I totally have a non-profit crush on them. Just check out the photos to get a sense of how important this work is: [RCC website and RCC Facebook page].

What a cool concept! RCC is the brain child of Craig Dodson, a former elite cyclist, bio-mechanist, and self-proclaimed big thinker. Craig started racing bicycles when he was 14. From there he moved into elite level off-road racing when he was 18, and by the time he was 23 he was racing at the U.S. professional level. Having also worked in bicycle shops since he was 15 and receiving a master’s degree in movement science with an emphasis on cycling in 2004, Craig pretty much knows everything there is to know about the world of bikes and racing. Knowing the power of biking and the potential to change people’s lives, Craig started developing a cycling outreach program aimed at the youth living in Richmond’s public housing projects. With the help of a small team, Craig launched RCC in 2010.

Who RCC is, what it stands for, and how it operates can be summed up through a very poignant mission found on their website:

WE use cycling as our platform for change. We infuse ourselves; our passion, our values, our creativity, our drive, and our dedication into the lives of our youth. We have fun. We laugh. We teach. We learn. We promise our youth, that if they stay with Richmond Cycling Corps, they will get out of public housing. We will never break our promise. We will never become set in our ways; we will always be dynamic in our approach to changing youth lives. We are fearless in our approach to our purpose. We will not become tangled in red-tape, policy, politics, and talking heads. We will always deliver action, not messaging. Life is too short, and we, including our youth, have a lot to accomplish. We will always be passionate towards our purpose. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

Craig’s brilliant idea, which earned him a RVA Creativity Award this past spring, is built on a solid entrepreneurial foundation. Realizing that building a non-profit should be approached similarly to building a business, he started by focusing on developing a quality “outreach product” and limiting participatory numbers for the sake of creating real results. In doing so, he was able to establish the program with a solid foundation and make an impact on both the lives of the kids enrolled in the program as well as potential investors. With results to show, several companies stepped in to offer up financial support.

In 2011 Craig decided that relying solely on donations to keep the non-profit going wasn’t ideal so he opened Richmond Bicycle Studio (RBS). A for-profit business, RBS is not just a bike shop. The business model focuses on expertise first. Whether you need to be fitted for a bike, need a bike repair, or are interested in indoor cycling, Craig brings in the most qualified, educated, and experienced people he can find to help you with all of your purchasing needs. Of course, 100% of the profits are funneled into the non-profit and the customer walks away with both an above bar retail experience as well as the satisfaction of knowing their dollars are supporting children throughout the city.

On the surface RCC is, as one would expect, about exposing inner city youth to sports, exercise, conditioning, leadership, teamwork, commitment, and dedication. But that’s not all. Cycling is just the gateway into these childrens’ lives. Whether it’s helping with homework, driving kids to a SAT testing site, or bringing in college counselors and recruiters, RCC envelops itself into every aspect of these kids to make good on their promise of helping them build better, stronger lives and getting out of public housing.

I surprised Craig in his studio space on Summit Avenue in Scott’s Addition. With RSB on one side, and RCC on the other, the two entities are located in a super cool industrial space that looks more like an art gallery than a non-profit office and retail store. I thought he might be familiar with Batter Up since we met at the RVA Creativity Awards, but it took a little probing and jogging of his memory for it to come to him. As I explained more and more about Batter Up, the more excited he became. He was like a little kid who couldn’t sit still. He was SO excited. It didn’t hurt that I showed up right before lunch—and I’m pretty sure they devoured that cake right after I left.

And now for this week’s cake! It was a Toffee Pecan Bundt Cake with Caramel Drizzle. The recipe (found here) came from A Family Feast. It was sticky and gooey in all the right ways and just goes to show that sometimes the simplest of cakes trump the most complicated. Kind of like the simple idea of introducing bikes to inner city kids can make more of an impact than an over-thought million dollar government initiative. Sometimes a good idea, a bunch of hard work, and a whole lot of caring and commitment can go a long way. Keep up the great work Craig!