Bike messengers

Student volunteers champion affordable housing with cross country ride

Photo with no caption
By Stephanie P. Hanover
For Blount Today

"I wish my dad could see how clean this wheel is!" said Lee Anne McLendon, clearly very proud of her freshly degreased rear bicycle wheel.

McLendon, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will graduate next semester with degrees in music and psychology. Currently, she is one of 30 students and recent college graduates who recently left the outer banks of
North Carolina to pedal the message of affordable housing across America.

Bike and Build is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating communities about the availability of affordable housing. The grass roots organization orchestrates unique ways to engage service-minded students. Working in tandem with Habitat for Humanity, they have created a cycling venue interwoven with "build days"- days the crew spends working on selected
Habitat homes en route.

The newest Bike and Build cycling route is around 3,500 miles, begun May 25 on North Carolina’s outer banks and finishing July 27 in San Diego. The route, one of five available to volunteers, is commonly referred to as NC2SD. The NC2SD crew arrived in Maryville on June 9 by way of Newfound Gap, through Gatlinburg to Highway 321 and down busy 411 Highway.

They finally rested at Camp Tipton on Highway 129, which hosted their six-day stay in Maryville.

The group left Maryville for the seven-day ride to Memphis on Friday, June 15.

While in Maryville, the volunteers worked on various, pre-arranged housing projects, including some time spent at the local Habitat Restore.

Bike and Build screens the potential volunteers with a series of essays requiring them to describe themselves, their goals and their leadership abilities. They must also have accumulated a prescribed number of community service project hours and be willing and able to raise $4,000 for their contribution to Bike and Build’s service fund.

For this, they receive a bicycle, training guidelines and trip support - along with the intrinsic value of the accomplishment of cycling 3,500 miles and completing nine days of service work in a two-month time frame.

In advance of the trip, volunteers schedule community appearances, usually at sponsoring churches, where they give a prepared presentation regarding the affordable housing crisis in America.

Matt "Vandy" Vanderpool describes his attraction to the project as "a way to address housing issues and see the country that I live in."

Vanderpool, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, will begin work as a mechanical design engineer at Medtronic as soon as the trip is complete. He is concerned that "a lot of the problems in the United States are not being addressed by college students and are overlooked in favor of more fashionable overseas issues."

The sentiment is prevalent within the group. A few members will be continuing their service work with AmeriCorps, a U.S. service-based program, in the future.

Route leader Anthony Woods is a 2003 West Point graduate currently assigned to Harvard’s John F. Kennedy’s School of Government. The Army captain has spent two of his four military years serving in Iraq. He spent his most recent winter break on post-Katrina reconstruction in New Orleans.

Woods said he is most rewarded by "knowing and seeing how appreciated their work is by the recipients of the building projects."

Woods, 26, said he looks forward to using his education and work experience to resolving social and economic issues in the future.

A prospective homeowner is required to meet a variety of guidelines and requirements in order to receive a home built especially for them by Habitat for Humanity. The maximum gross income cannot exceed $36,400 for a family of four. At the same time, they must exhibit the ability to pay the zero interest mortgage, typically around $390 per month.

Recipients are required to put up to 500 "sweat equity" hours into the project or the projects of others.

Additionally, they must attend weekly sessions on homeownership training for nine months. The process can take up to three years from the point prospective homeowners become eligible to apply. Some of the NC2SD volunteers were recently able to attend the dedication ceremony of a home in Hillsboro, N.C., and described it as "very emotional" and "full of gratitude."

The group is adamant about two things regarding the housing crises, the first being that everyone needs to have the security of a home to fulfill their basic needs.

"Everyone needs a home, a place to call their own," said Madison, Wis., native Eric Immel.

Equally important, he adds, "You don’t have to ride across the country to contribute to making the homeownership dream come true for families living in poverty in your community."

Ryan Iafigliola, a finance major at Notre Dame, suggests multiple ways to become involved. Examples, he said, include half-day volunteering at the Habitat ReStore or a local build site, hosting lunch for the volunteers or donating household goods for someone else’s use. Spending $5 at the Habitat ReStore ensures the purchase of one 2x4 piece of lumber.

Iafigliola has been involved with Habitat for Humanity for more than eight years and describes this current venture as "a way that social work actually contributes to the volunteer, and not the other way around."

He says the experience contributes to the volunteer’s overall growth and enriches their formal education with real life experience. Iafigliola said he will be continuing his housing efforts with the Fuller Center for Housing beginning in September.

Bike and Build has donated over $752,804 to various projects the past four years and hopes to raise an additional $360,000 this summer. Various team members report getting involved in Bike and Build because they knew a friend who had participated previously. The social bonding apparent within the crew of 19 women and 11 men is a testament to teamwork and overall effort as well as the success of the Bike and Build philosophy.

"My parents initially thought that I was crazy, but now they are so proud of me and my entire group," Molly Pederson said.
According to Molly North’s rider blog, some of the students have "fallen asleep dreaming of ways that their generation can
fight all of the social injustices at once."

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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