With months of free time stretching out before her this summer in advance of her enrollment in the Bowdoin Teacher Scholars Program next January, senior Sarah Hirschfeld decided to take an adventure. She plans to bike across the country from Portland, Maine, to Santa Barbara, Calif.
“I could get a [summer] teaching job, but since I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life, I figured why not try something crazy and adventurous,” Hirschfeld said recently, taking a break from studying for a microbiology exam. She wants to be a high school biology teacher.
But the conscientious biology major doesn’t just want an adventure for its own sake — she wanted to combine the experience with something more meaningful. So Hirschfeld will peddle with Bike & Build, a nonprofit that organizes cross-country trips for young people that combine bicycling with building homes for low-income families.
Bike & Build, which is based out of Hirschfeld’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pa., uses these trips to raise awareness about the need for affordable housing in the United States. During the trip, the cyclists stop in different cities to help build houses for needy families, usually in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Bike & Build also asks its participants to raise money before their trip to donate to affordable housing projects across the country. The organization says that in 2012 it distributed over $290,000 to 66 organizations through a competitive grant program. So far, Hirschfeld has raised $3,715, which is 83% of her goal of $4,500. The money also helps pay for trip expenses along the way, such as food for the participants and fuel for the support van.
Hirschfeld’s group will include 29 other people, ages 18 to 25. The group leaves Portland June 16 and arrives in Santa Barbara August 31, a trip of 3,937 miles. In that time, the cyclists will devote 15 days to building affordable homes in 13 cities: Portland, Maine; Pittsfield, Mass.; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Columbus and Yellow Springs, Ohio; Joplin and St. Louis, Mo.; Amarillo, Texas; Roswell, N.M.; Payson, Cottonwood and Williams in Arizona; and Palmdale, Calif.
Hirschfeld said she’s excited by all the trip offers, from learning about important social issues to volunteering and seeing the Grand Canyon. “I haven’t traveled very much outside of New England,” she admitted. “And I’ve never done a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity, although I’ve always thought it was a cool organization.”
Although Hirschfeld’s an athlete — she’s a long-distance swimmer and a water polo player — she’s not done much bicycling. In the past few weeks, she has been training to get in shape. The other day she and her friend cycled down to Land’s End on Bailey Island and back, a round trip of about 30 miles, to contribute to the 500 miles of bicycling she’s required to log before she leaves.