Annette John-Hall: Perfect match is set on wheels

Kristin Gavin and Gabriel Mandujano of Gearing Up and Wash Cycle Laundry have joined forces to create environmentally sensitive jobs for women in transition.
Kristin Gavin and Gabriel Mandujano of Gearing Up and Wash Cycle Laundry have joined forces to create environmentally sensitive jobs for women in transition. (ANNETTE JOHN-HALL / Staff)
Posted: October 24, 2012

In these delicate economic times, businesses would do well to join forces, not only to advance their respective interests, but also to help put folks to work.

That's how Gearing Up and Wash Cycle Laundry roll - literally.

The nonprofit Gearing Up provides guidance and bicycles for women in transition - those who have fled abuse, are struggling with addiction, or have been incarcerated. Wash Cycle Laundry is a city laundry service whose pick-up and delivery are handled by bike-riding employees.

You can just about guess why this would be a business marriage made on two wheels.

Turns out the women who ride in Gearing Up's program are a perfect fit to work for Wash Cycle Laundry.

Sure, providing the bicycles and the pure joy that comes from unencumbered pedaling "is one of the ways we can move our women along," says Kristin Gavin, founder of Gearing Up. "But we couldn't get them much further."

That's where Gabriel Mandujano, founder of Wash Cycle Laundry, comes in. So far, two of Mandujano's 15 employees were hired from Gearing Up, with more hires planned for next year.

As far as employment goes, it may be micro progress, "but we care about our folks," Mandujano says. Relationships "are more enduring."

"I really like this partnership," adds Mandujano, who was recently honored by Gearing Up for his supportive efforts. "You need employees who are willing to take on responsibility, and the people who have come to work here are some of the hardest-working people I know."

Shared passion

What's impressive about Gavin and Mandujano is that their shared passion for a sustainable planet ranks right up there with their concern for fellow Philadelphians.

Mandujano, 29, started his business fresh out of Wharton two years ago with a bike and an aluminum trailer attached to the back - the better to haul as much as 200 pounds of laundry throughout city streets.

When he first started three years ago, he had a contract with one laundromat. Now he works out of three, at 10th and Spruce, 16th and South, and 48th and Pine.

Obviously, plenty of folks are willing to pay to avoid the weekly drudgery of washing, drying, and folding clothes.

"Getting laundry done is like ordering takeout for lunch instead of making it on your own," Mandujano says.

Gavin, 31, came up with the idea for Gearing Up while working on a master's degree at Temple and looking at the ways in which physical activity can affect anxiety and depression.

Built-in incentives encouraged participation. Once a rider reaches 100 miles, she's eligible to receive her own bike. So far more than 50 women have.

"Some women [ride] because they just want to get the hell out of the house," Gavin says. "They ride, and they leave behind anger, boredom, and sometimes sadness. They bring back joy, freedom, accomplishment, and motivation."

For many of those women, a bicycle is truly a vehicle of change. Who knew a 20-speed could break cycles of dysfunction?

"It helped me change my whole life, how I live," says Gwendolyn Hardeman, 50, who has pedaled with Gearing Up for two years.

Hardeman was the three-fer: an abused, crack-addicted ex-offender who did six months in jail for contempt.

Through Chances, an outpatient rehabilitation program, she discovered her passion for pedaling and hit the road.

"I was getting exercise, getting a lot of freedom. We were riding and meeting different people," Hardeman said. "It was good for me and I was enjoying myself."

So far, she has ridden with Mayor Nutter, done the 45-mile MS Ride, and used her skills to give back by volunteering to transport clothes for Career Wardrobe.

Hardeman says she's already been to the jails to spread the gospel of cycling and Gearing Up. She'll share the pleasure, relaxation, and clearheadedness she's enjoyed - one of those experiences you never forget.

Like riding a bike.

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, or on Twitter @Annettejh.

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