If you look closely at these snowmen, you’ll see each bike part that was reimagined: tire rubber became a scarf, gears became buttons and a small piece of chain was positioned to create a smile. Photo by Lily Lagrange.

Forging Frosty: Front Yard Bikes’ unique snowmen

What do you see when you look at a bike? The spokes with shining reflectors. The greased chain. The gears holding everything in place.

Front Yard Bikes founder Dustin LaFont and the children he serves see more than merely a mode of transportation. This group, which participates in activities ranging from bike building to nurturing a community garden through the afterschool mentorship program, sees each piece of the machine as an opportunity for creativity and growth.

“A few months ago, I sat down with a group of kids and some scrap bike parts,” explains LaFont, who has taken his program from a small operation with a few neighborhood kids to a flourishing organization with an ever-expanding reach in just eight years. “I just said, ‘Let’s create.’ There were a lot of great ideas, but the idea of building snowmen really stuck out to me.”

Since the summer of 2017, LaFont and Mid City Bikes manager Will Adams have been teaching groups of older students the ins and outs of industrial tools and welding as part of Front Yard Bikes’ youth workforce development initiative, which aims to give students real-life experience that will help them transition successfully into adult life. LaFont says many children have fallen in love with these career options, while others have seen the experience as motivation to continue in academics.

“My grandfather was a welder, so it has been special to share that story with the kids,” says LaFont. “The way I see it, not all of the kids will become welders, but at least they got the exposure.”

This winter, the group is debuting the fruits of their labor, with welded snowmen created entirely from bike parts. Filling a need in snowless Baton Rouge, the festive figures are popping up all over town to spread Christmas cheer while raising awareness for Front Yard Bikes and the kids it serves.

“Bringing the snowmen to life was really a group effort,” explains LaFont of the group’s unique take on the holiday icon. “The older kids welded the pieces together and the younger kids painted and decorated them.”

And while the sculptures are sure to stand out against store-bought blow-up Santas and light-up reindeer, LaFont says that he hopes the snowmen will help to build bonds with people in the community who have not yet heard of Front Yard Bikes.

“The snowmen will be set up at businesses across Baton Rouge,” says LaFont. “But I want it to be a sort of ‘follow the snowman’ type of thing. I want people to post pictures and connect through them and also connect with us.”

If you see one of the Front Yard Bikes snowmen this season, join the holiday movement by using the hashtag #FollowtheSnowmenBR.