When a group of bicyclists came through Lawrence last summer as part of a cross-country fundraising trip, Kansas University senior Jillian Strobel watched with envy.
“Biking has always been a passion for me,” she says.
The riders were part of a national group called Bike and Build that organizes cross-country bicycle trips to benefit affordable housing groups. Strobel, 21, longed to take a trip with them the following summer, but she didn’t think she could swing it.
In order to participate, she would need to raise $4,000. And, of course, she would have ride across the country, mountains and all.
“It was intimidating,” she says. “It just didn’t seem reasonable.”
But she was so interested, she followed the progress of the riders who stopped in Lawrence. They posted updates on the Internet as they made their way to the West Coast.
By the time they arrived at their destination, Strobel had changed her mind.
“I realized those people are just like me,” she says. “They’re students, and they did it. There’s no reason I can’t do it.”
Participants in Bike and Build do more than ride and raise money. As the name implies, they also grab hammers and help build homes in the communities they ride through.
Agata Kaminska, a KU graduate with a degree in pre-medicine who will also be riding in this year’s event, says that this community service aspect is as important to her as the cycling and fundraising. It’s part of her life’s mission to help people and build healthy communities.
“There are many more things that go into community well-being than clinics and medicine,” she says. “The lack of affordable housing is a huge problem. If you’re dealing with public health, you have to look at living conditions, too.”
“Everybody needs housing,” Strobel says. “Even if we get out of this economic crisis, affordable housing will still be an issue.”
By helping with building projects along the way, riders like Strobel and Kaminska not only leave tangible benefits for the communities they pass through, they have an opportunity to get to know the organizations they’ll support with the money they’ve raised.
“At the end of the trip, each group” of riders “decides which nonprofit organizations will receive their money,” Kaminska says. “The cool thing is each rider gets to donate $500 to whatever organization they choose.”
Eight groups of 32 cyclists will take different routes across the country. Strobel will be taking the Northern Route, from Portsmouth, N.H., to Vancouver. Kaminska will take the Southern Route, from Jacksonville to San Francisco. Another KU student, Christina Henning, will take the Central U.S. Route, which will pass through Lawrence after two build days in Kansas City.
Yet another route will stop in Lawrence on July 13 for two days of building.
Strobel, who originally hails from Great Bend, says she’s eager to get on the road.
“There’s been so much stress just getting ready,” she says, adding that she still needs to raise money to fulfill her requirement. (Donations can be made at bikeandbuild.org.) “I’m looking forward to when I won’t have to think about anything else all summer except for biking and building houses.”
In addition to soliciting donations, she’s also been training in all conditions.
“I’ve done rain,” she says. “I’ve done wind. I’ve done extreme heat. I’ve done beautiful days.”
Still, she admits, “I’m nervous about going through the Appalachians that first week. I have a feeling I’m in for a big surprise.”