Julia Gibson is from Framingham, Mass. Heton Zhang is from Beijing, China. Chris Benson hales from Newark, Delaware. They each pedaled from their lunch together Tuesday in Belchertown, up Northampton's steep Hospital Hill with 30 other participants of this summer's Bike and Build 2014. Their destination? Christ United Methodist Church on Route 66, where they were put up for the night, shuttled to Smith College for warm showers, and feted with a community pot luck. This is the fourth summer that CUMC has hosted the group, which is dedicated to raising money and awareness of need for affordable housing across the United States. This Bike and Build team will pedal from Maine to Santa Barbara and participate in hands on construction of affordable housing at 15 stops along the way.
Julia, an outdoor enthusiast, Heton, self-professed film fanatic, and Chris, a biking club veteran, have more than a few biked miles in common. In order to pedal with the Bike and Build Team, each member must research the topic of affordable housing, raise $4,5oo and log 500 miles before Orientation begins in June. Orientation finds the team members presenting their research and immersed in biking safety classes. They learn to ride together and to manage the logistics of getting across the country, from clean laundry to bike maintenance.
Alex Evangelista, from Michigan, marveled during dinner, that the group had only been together a week. "It feels like we've known each other forever," he said, popping a strawberry in his mouth, "we've really bonded." Heton, led the dinner group duties Tuesday evening, by having each rider tell the hosts their name, where they were from, and little something about themselves. Like many on the Bike and Build Team, Chis Polansky, Edison, NJ, has a long history of community service, trying to alleviate poverty and homelessness. He confessed that it had been a goal of his, "to experience as many YMCA showers throughout the country as possible." After the assembled's gentle laughter, he said, "The Smith showers were really a step up. Thank you, Northampton."
Bike and Build was created to engage young people in an active way with the cause of affordable housing. The organization identifies and supports affordable projects throughout the nation and along each Bike and Build route. While the two Massachusetts build days were on Habitat for Humanity homes, Bike and Build is an independent organization working with a number of affordable housing partners. For more information on Bike and Build Routes and to track this particular group (ME2SB), visit bikeandbuild.org. For more information about volunteering on local affordable housing projects, visit Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity at pioneervalleyhabitat.org.