Rutgers student to bike across country for homeless
A house is a home, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have either.
Michelle Martino, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy second-year student, is preparing for her Bike & Build journey. During the trip, Martino and 30 other young adults will cycle across the country and stop along the way to help build homes for families in need, according to a press release from Justin Villere, director of operations.
Riders on Bike & Build spend an entire summer biking, volunteering, advocating, recharging and then repeating the process, said Matt Hartman, director of Outreach and Alumni Relations for Bike & Build.
“I know this will be an eye-opening experience that will give me a deep appreciation for what I am fortunate (enough) to have,” Martino said.
Bike & Build works with many different organizations that are committed to improving people's lives, she said.
Eighty-five percent of all donations Bike & Build receives go towards combating the housing crisis, Martino said. Donations are tax-deductible and support Martino's journey and the missions of the 14 participating affordable housing groups, which include organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Well House.
Well House operates on a "housing first" model, meaning that they move chronically homeless people and families immediately off the streets into refurbished homes, without requiring treatment or sobriety, Weng said. Well House has multiple houses and a community garden that residents can go to and pick their own produce.
Angel Weng, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she was able to see Glacier National Park in Montana during her Bike & Build trip. Her group camped during the night and were the first cyclists allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road after the Glacier National Park forest fires in 2015, she said.
“It is absolutely as breathtaking as everyone says,” she said.
In order to prepare for this trip, every rider is required to bike at least 500 miles, with one ride being at least 70 miles, Weng said. Riders have to become comfortable biking on roads where there are no shoulders and riding next to potentially aggressive drivers.
Martino has started training by going to the gym, riding a stationary bike at different levels of difficulty and changing her diet.
“Since I will be cycling between 40 and 110 miles per day with Bike & Build, I have a lot of work and preparation ahead of me,” Martino said. “This will be quite a challenge, both physically and emotionally, but it will be a challenge that I can handle and conquer."
Weng wanted take the journey before she became too old or too busy to bike across the country, she said.
“I have always wanted to do a road trip across the country ... I found out that you could bike across the country while meeting and helping people along the way,” she said.
Most nights they stayed at churches. Occasionally, host families would provide the group with food and shelter, she said.
When Weng and her group were traveling from Avon Lake, Ohio, they passed through Cleveland.
“One of the most jarring things you realize as you are biking across the country is how quickly you can go from a low-income area to a high-income area by simply crossing one street,” she said.
The journey changed Weng's perspective on her own life.
“This trip opened my eyes to just how generous people can be ... Their generosity showed me that there are always going to be people willing to help if you let them,” she said. “The trip also made me realize how lucky I am to have lived the life I've had."
Before his involvement with Bike & Build, Hartman did not know a lot about the affordable housing cause. He participated in a bike journey in 2013 and rode from Maine to California, he said.
Hartman is continually reminded of Bike & Build's impact on young adults through the organization's recruiting events.
“It is empowering to see the long-lasting effects of the life-changing summers of service these young adults participate in and how their experiences influence their real lives,” Hartman said. “Once I got involved the combination of service and adventure became a self-sustaining flame."
Jessica Herring is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in English. She can be found on Twitter @Jesslindsey93.