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New Walnut street bike lane Credit: Justin Cohen

For six Penn students, building a home, biking thousands of miles and raising thousands of dollars are all in a summer’s work.

As part of Bike & Build, a national nonprofit, the student volunteers will ride an average of 70 miles a day, spending days off the road building homes in at-risk communities.

Bike & Build organizes ten teams of nearly 30 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 25. According to the organization’s website, it has contributed over $4.5 million to housing groups to fund building projects carried out by young adults. It raised nearly $500,000 last summer, and hopes to grant nearly $600,000 to more than 300 affordable housing nonprofits in 2015.

The organization uses grassroots campaigning to facilitate youth involvement in the affordable housing cause, partnering with local groups for each site build.

Nursing senior Stephanie Foster heard about the program through her involvement with Habitat for Humanity at Penn. “One really cool thing about building with Habitat here is you get to meet the families you are building for,” she said. “It’s very cool to work side-by-side with them and hear their stories.”

Her team will ride from Connecticut to California, crashing at local churches, synagogues and YMCAs along the way. Like most volunteers, Foster is an inexperienced rider.

“We have to put 500 miles on our road bikes by the start of the trip,” College senior Zoe Goldberg said, who will be riding almost 4,300 miles from South Carolina to Santa Cruz on her newly purchased bike. “My parents are bringing it down this weekend.”

“Part of me thinks that I’m crazy,” she added. “This feels like the right summer since I’m graduating in May ... Everyone who I’ve spoken to who has done it has said it is the best two or three months of your entire life, and I would believe that.”

Goldberg, who will be cycling alongside her sister, looks forward to building. “Part of why we liked [our route] is because we’ll also end up building an entire house while we’re in Colorado,” she said.

Each rider must raise $4,500 to participate. “I never thought I would hit $4,500,” said Foster. “Right now I’m just short of $6,000.”

Sponsors donate through an interactive website, where they can fund a specific day or even a single mile. There is incentive to raise the most. “Whoever is the top fundraiser gets to grant an extra portion of their money to a charity of their choice,” Foster said.

“Their goal is to build a young adult base that will go on and continue to do charity work,” she said, citing listservs in major US cities where alumni from the program post charity opportunities. “I think being a part of the Bike & Build community getting out of college will help me stay connected with all of that.”

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