Riding for awareness

Danbury UMC hosts Bike & Build team/Rebecca Newman - CreedibleDANBURY – Thirty-one affordable housing advocates pedaled their way to Danbury United Methodist Church on Wednesday as part of a 72-day journey across the U.S.

The group, made up of cyclists between 18 and 25 years old, are riding from Providence, R.I. to San Francisco, Calif. to raise awareness and money for affordable housing causes.

“When people see 30 of us on bikes wearing matching spandex, they ask what we’re doing,” said co-trip leader Laura Mann, of Kentucky. “That’s spreading awareness.”

According to researchers, over 30 million households pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. And, to afford the fair-market price of the average U.S. two-bedroom rental unit, renters working full-time need to earn at least $15.28 per hour. That’s almost three times the current federal minimum wage, and 37 percent more than renters needed to earn in 1999.

For Mann, 23, Bike & Build is also about inspiring her generation.

“Bike & Build’s mission is also a lot about empowering young adults for a lifetime of service,” she said. “Our generation is the movers and shakers of tomorrow.”

Currently eight teams, totaling 255 cyclists, are riding across the country.  Cyclists average 75 miles per day. Each rider had to train for the ride and had to raise $4,000 for fair housing – mostly using social media tools like Facebook to raise the money.  This is the second year Mann has ridden with the program. When pedaling across the map, she said the issues surrounding affordable housing are hard to ignore. Perhaps it’s because the riders become nomadic – staying at churches and other facilities that will take them in.

“It gives us a taste of what it’s like to not have a space to call your own,” she said.

The team, which is one of two groups currently riding through Connecticut, stayed the night at Danbury Methodist and the church also served them dinner. Emily McWilliams, president of the church’s youth group, said it’s the third year they’ve hosted Bike & Build.

She said spending time with the riders motivates the youth group.

“It shows that you can do something if you really want to do it,” she said.Paul Russell, 21, puts away his bike in Danbury/Rebecca Newman - Creedible

When she’s old enough, Emily hopes she can ride for affordable housing too.

Mary Ellen Hitt, of Maine, said she heard about Bike & Build six years ago and has wanted to participate in the program ever since.

“A lot of people can volunteer for a day, but this is intense,” she said.

Housing, she explained, is a huge issue that gets overlooked too often.

“You can’t get someone a house in a day. It could be a full time job, but it starts with raising awareness,” she said.

Today the group will ride to Middletown, N.Y. and for the next 4,138 miles will continue spreading their message.

You can track their progress here.

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