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Bike and Build group makes pit stop in Westfield

July 6, 2016
By Amanda Dedie - editorial@westfieldrepublican.com , Westfield Republican

While many college-aged people are spending their summer days lounging by the pool, hanging out with friends or going to amusement parks, a group of 31 twenty-somethings are biking across the northern part of the United States, helping Habitat for Humanity build affordable housing.

Bike and Build, according to its website bikeandbuild.org, "envisions future generations who are committed to a lifetime of civic engagement and who inspire individuals and communities to create fair, decent housing for all Americans."

The northern U.S. group - whose bike tour begins in Portsmouth, NH and ends in Bellingham, WA - recently came to Buffalo, where they spent two days helping Habitat for Humanity build houses before biking 76 miles to Westfield, where they rested up, showered, cleaned their clothes, did bike maintenance and checked in with friends and family before biking to Ashtabula, OH.

Article Photos

Photo by Amanda Dedie
The Northern United States Bike and Build group recently came from Buffalo, where they had two build days helping Habitat for Humanity erect houses before biking 76 miles to the First United Methodist Church in Westfield. Once there, they rested up, did bike maintenance and checked in with friends and family.

"(Habitat for Humanity in Buffalo is) setting up a series of homes on the vacant block, more or less, so we got a chance to meet families and work with contractors, mostly on citing and framing," said Christina Hernandez, one of the bikers on the cross-country tour.

Bike and Build started in 2002 as a spin-off of a group at Yale that had done Habitat for Humanity and also liked biking, and put the two together. Each rider is asked to raise $4,500 before the trip starts, and 60 percent of that goes to a grant pool. At the end of the summer, grants between $500 and $5,000 dollars are awarded to affordable housing groups across the United States.

Each rider also has a chance to award $250 to an organization of their choice. The primary mission is to raise money and awareness on affordable housing, done with the grants and just by being on the road and talking to people.

Every day, bikers are either - you guessed it - biking or building. Some days they're biking through different cities and states, and then they'll stop somewhere and have a build day. The program provides three meals a day for all participants and a host for a night to get some sleep.

"We are really lucky to have a very generous network of hosts, and lots of times they'll ask us to do presentations after dinner on what we're doing and what our build and ride days are like. There have been instances where we have, as a group, impacted or brought awareness to a community," Hernandez said.

Riders have to go through a "curriculum," where they have to help build in their home cities and do a minimum of 10 hours with an affordable housing organization.

They also interview an affordable housing organization, and a beneficiary - like a tenant, homeowner or someone they've helped.

A ride day typically goes as such: Bikers wake up between 5 to 6 a.m., or 4 a.m. for some of the longer rides. After an hour and a half, spent eating breakfast and preparing for the day, hydrating, packing and getting the trailer filled, they're off on the road in small groups of three or four (riding in big packs is dangerous). At some point, they stop for lunch and they eat dinner at their hosting site while getting to know their hosts, cleaning up and doing bike maintenance if needed.

A build day is slightly different. Bikers wake up around 6 to 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast, pack their stuff and be shuttled or walk over to the build site. This summer, bike and builders are building for a total of 16 days in eight different cities.

"I specifically worked on roofing (at the second site) and it was my first time working on something like that," said Hernandez. "We worked from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We got a lot accomplished. We did an entire half of a roof. Then the third day was in Buffalo, so we built for two days in Buffalo with Habitat on the east side, and those are a series of homes they're working on there because they have a high vacancy rate because of a disinvestment in the area, so they're looking to improve that area, make it safer and more livable."

According to Hernandez, Westfield has been part of the Bike and Build route for at least eight years. The community in Westfield - as well as the kindness and generosity experienced in all of their host sites - is what keeps them coming back time and time again. The feeling of generosity from others plus the fact that this is a new experience for a majority of the riders, save a few of them, sends riders on a whirlwind of emotions and helps the riders to realize they're truly making a contribution and together as a group, they're doing more than they could ever imagine.

"It was a very overwhelming but beautiful first week we had together, getting to know everyone and being confronted by such generosity by all these strangers we were meeting on the road, being our hosts and other people that would see us biking by and offer us water or ice or soda," Hernandez said.

"That means a lot to me because I feel like you don't experience that everywhere. I feel like I'm seeing, first hand, how much can be accomplished when people work together on something. I can see that in tour build days with the amount we've done. We go there and we're like, 'Are we going to be useful? I don't necessarily have experience doing these things.' But once the supervisor has given us some direction and gets us settled in on what we're doing, we get a lot done.

"(We've learned) how important positive energy is to a journey like this, because there are days we're tired or our bodies hurt or it's raining ... It's super important to just encourage one another and be positive," Hernandez concluded.

 
 
 

 

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