Hardrocker Couple Gives Back

Todd Gagne (GEOL 97) said one of the most important pieces of knowledge he gained from his education at South Dakota Mines was the ability to look at almost any problem and say: I can figure this out. That’s what he and his wife, Holly (CSC 94), said when they were asked to run Thrive, a nonprofit associated with Love INC. in Rapid City. 

Thrive provides two main services: a juvenile diversion program where youth gain community service hours in exchange for fixing up donated bicycles; and a program for adults who need transportation – if they can put in a few hours of work on a bike of their choosing, it’s theirs to keep, along with a helmet and a lock. Similar to other Love INC services, individuals are referred to Thrive from nonprofits such as Hope Center and Cornerstone. 

1Both Holly and Todd admit they didn’t really know what they were getting into when they decided to take on Thrive. The first phase of their professional lives looked a lot different than running a nonprofit. Holly worked for Microsoft for eight years before having their two children. Todd worked for a software company for 19 years which involved a lot of global travel. While the job provided many opportunities and experiences, the time away from his family started to take a toll on them.  

The opportunity to run Thrive came at the right time. It had already been operating under Love INC, but it needed a new building and a new operations model. “We’re both pretty driven, Type A people, so it wasn’t always easy,” Todd says with a laugh. “But we both believed in a vision of where we wanted to go, and we both bring different skills to the table.”

While Thrive’s programs offer obvious benefits to the community and those involved, the Gagnes have found that it’s about much more than a bike for the participants and the volunteers. For the adults, reliable transportation can lead to a stable job, then to the ability to afford housing, and more. For youth, the program can provide a stabilizing force in their lives as well as an opportunity to explore interests and possible careers. Some of the youth participate just because they’re interested in working on bikes.  

“We really want it to be a sandbox for kids to experiment,” Todd said. “Sometimes they run our social media, they might work in our retail store, or maybe even paint a mural on the side of our building.”

Thrive’s bike workshop is connected to a retail store that sells used and donated outdoor clothing and equipment. They also sell bikes and tune-ups. The proceeds support Love INC community services. The nonprofit is almost entirely volunteer run. So far this year, they’ve sold over 500 bikes. They also have many success stories of youth and adults who have participated. 

“It also makes for an interesting dynamic between the youth,” Todd noted. “They’re not staring at their phones, they are trying to solve problems, so I think that is a big part of why this works. It can get complicated because we see bikes from the 60s and even the 40s, so you need to figure out what brakes go with what. There is a community aspect to that troubleshooting.” 

Youth start by learning the basics and first work on kids’ bikes. They can then move up to working on multi-gear bikes and e-bikes and providing tune-ups (for which they get to take home a portion of the payment). 

“One youth progressed so far that we gave him a frame and he built the bike up from just that. He rides that bike today,” Todd said. 

In addition to putting much of their time into Thrive, Holly and Todd also provide software consulting services and invest in other business opportunities in Rapid City. 

2Recognizing that they had to leave the Black Hills in the late 90s to pursue career opportunities in Seattle, they hope to help build an entrepreneurial ecosystem and grow job opportunities in Rapid City. This summer they launched Wildfire Labs which helps bring B2B software ideas to life.

“Two valuable things I got out of my education at Mines were the ability to take a big problem and break it down into smaller problems that could be solved, and the other is developing the ability to learn and teach yourself. Once you have that, then you can start to say: “There are plenty of problems; which one do I want to solve?” 

In the spirit of giving, thank you to the Gagnes and all the other Hardrockers who use your skills to help make your community a better place.