Founded in 2003, Bike & Build takes volunteers ages 18-28 on cross-country service-oriented cycling trips. Along the way, rider teams stop about every fifth day to offer hands-on help at an affordable housing build site. Bike & Build’s mission is to raise awareness about (and funds for) the cause of affordable housing. Through education, training, and experiential learning, Bike and Build empowers young people to be advocates in their communities. I corresponded with Director of Outreach and Alumni Relations Lily Goldberg, (and an alumna of Bike and Build herself) to learn more:
PBE How does Bike & Build find volunteers? Is it mostly by word-of-mouth?
LG Our number one recruiter is word of mouth. People find out about Bike & Build through friends, family, acquaintances, people that they have been friends with on FB for forever. Beyond that, we do outreach to affordable housing organizations, schools, cycling groups, and many other organizations.
PBE How many applicants does Bike & Build generally receive? How many make the cut?
LG It depends on the year – just about everyone that applies will be enrolled as long as they do it in a timely manner. We have had years with wait lists in the past, but like I said, it just depends on the year.
PBE It seems that most (all?) of your volunteers don’t come from a cycling or construction background- what are some of Bike & Build’s best motivators when the going gets tough?
LG The majority of our riders and leaders do not come from cycling backgrounds. That’s why training is an important aspect of our program. In addition to that, I think a lot of our riders would agree that after a couple of weeks into the trips their legs start really growing stronger and are ready for an entire summer of biking. When the routes get tougher (deserts, mountains, stretches of the country with little resources) our teams really come together and become each others biggest motivators. Keeping morale high can be tough some times, but at the end of the day our teammates keep each other going.
When I rode with Bike & Build back in 2015, we hit a stretch that was pretty barren and hot. During a route meeting, one of my teammates reminded us that we all signed up to do Bike & Build for a reason. And that we made this decision for ourselves. Bike & Build is for a greater good and reminding myself of that on long, hard days was a grounding mantra that I repeated many times as I continued pedaling.
PBE Do Bike & Build alumni continue to be serious about cycling? (For example: Keeping up with training? Being involved in a cycling club or participating in group rides or races?)
LG Lots of our alumni continue cycling after Bike & Build. Whether it is commuting, longer tours, mountain biking, racing, or anything else. Bike & Build gives people the confidence and safety training to continue being safe and dedicated cyclists – and many people put themselves out there to continue learning about bicycles, teaching others, advancing cycling infrastructure, and more.
PBE Does the Bike & Build experience affect alumni’s education/career trajectory?
LG Many Bike & Builders find B&B to be an empowering and life changing adventure. Many alumni go on to work in the nonprofit/affordable housing sector, bicycle organizations, AmeriCorps, PeaceCorps, etc.
From my own personal experience, I can speak to the fact that Bike & Build helped me hone in on my passions. I returned from my summer invigorated and excited to do more – I went on to intern at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, a community development org in Philly, volunteer more often, and work at Bike & Build, allowing me to foster this experience for other young adults.