Helping With Horsepower

South Dakota / Sept. 6, 2012 / by The Team

Working on old and broken motorcycles is not something that usually comes to mind when you think of therapy for young girls. In Mitchell, South Dakota, however, that is exactly what Laura Klock has introduced for residents of Abbott House in the form of Helping with Horsepower. 

Abbott House’s Executive Director, Eric Klooz, describes the center as “a sanctuary for girls in South Dakota from the ages of 7 to 17 and primarily, they come here to work on issues and things that have happened in the past that are really probably at present time controlling them and their behaviour.”

For these young girls, they are having to deal with daily challenges with their self-esteem and happiness due to events in their lives far beyond their control. Klooz explains that, “they generally will be displaying things like anger or depression” and Abbott House is there to help them deal with exactly those difficulties. 

After being approached with a request for sponsorship by Abbott House, Laura Klock, co-founder of Helping with Horsepower, was unable to divert cash from her growing motorcycle shop to help. She desperately wanted to do something, however, so she decided to volunteer her time instead. 

This initial offer of time soon turned into what is now a nonprofit that helps the girls of Abbott House, as well as raising money for the center. Klock describes Helping with Horsepower as a nonprofit that “develops programs that empower and encourage, and we help charities raise funds.” 

The uniqueness of Helping with Horsepower is found in the way they help empower the girls of Abbott House. Klock explains that The Bike Rebuild Program is “a curriculum that I wrote that uses a motorcycle as a tool to teach life messages.”

Already in its second year, the Bike Rebuild Program takes an old, uncared for, and broken motorcycle and gives the girls the responsibility of fixing it. Klock takes them through the different steps and always makes sure to relate the lessons they learn about fixing the bike back to their lives. 

Everything they do, from stripping the old parts and seeing what needs fixing, to rewiring the lights and designing the final look of the bike goes to show the girls that with love, care, and time, things that look to be irreparable can be saved. As they fix the bike, the girls themselves begin to open up, share their problems and worries with Klock, and grow in self-esteem. 

Klock’s presence clearly makes a difference. The girls get to work on the bike, make the choices for the different parts, colors, and the bike’s name. It gives them both the whole responsibility and the whole reward after having completed the work. But they are also put on exactly the same level as Klock herself. 

She explains that “I own a motorcycle shop but I don't work in the back shop, I'm not a mechanic, that's not what I do. So there are times when I bring in a product that we're going to put on the bike and I say 'I've never done this before either, let's get the instructions out and do it.' So I love that actually because then all of a sudden, there's no dumb question, there's no dumb idea, they're so much more free to say 'well what if we try it this way?’”

The transformation for both the bike and the girls is clear. The bikes go from rusty and broken to beautiful works of art, all completed by the girls. The participants themselves not only finish knowing that they created that transformation but they gain a knowledge of themselves and their power to change their future. As they heal the bike, Klock helps the girls heal. 

Darion Hillmer, a resident of Abbott House explains that “we had to take the whole bike apart and put it back together and it made us realize that anything can be fixed, no matter how hard you try. I didn't think I could change and then I realized that everyday I was slowly changing … I guess it kind of helped heal me. It helped make me better.”

Even from the first year to the next, the girls have changed. When Klock brought in the first bike, she says, “they were standing against the wall in the classroom and they're looking at me, like 'we're going to do what?' There was a whole lot of 'I've never done that before!’, ‘I can't’, I don't know how.’”

But when it came to the second bike, which the girls have named Mosaic, Klock explains that there was “no fear. I had to bring more tools from home because we only have one toolbox here, one tool set that was donated to us. I had to bring tools from home and the shop.”

There was no longer a sense of apprehension among the girls. “About half of them that had worked on the first one were here but the word had spread and so the second time, they tore a touring bike down in about 5 hours,” says Klock. 

Once the motorcycles are completely refitted, repainted, and given a completely new lease on life, they are taken on tour around the local area. The goal with that completed bike is then to raise as much money for Abbott House as possible. Raffle tickets are sold for people to win the bike and all proceeds of that raffle go to helping the girls of the Abbott House. 

Klock’s own passion for motorcycles is clear. She says that “when things were crazy and out of control, I felt like I was in control when I was on my motorcycle.” But it is her dedication to helping the girls she works with that is the most apparent when she speaks about Helping with Horsepower.

“Through the bike project, she really has done a few things, she helped them to build an amazing motorcycle but she's also taught them about tools and about how to take things that are broken within them and turn them into positives and they don't have to be ... controled by their past or other people,” says Klooz.

To learn more about Helping with Horsepower, please visit their website and Facebook page. And to learn more about Abbott House and see how to win the newest bike, visit their website