After graduation, some students start their careers. Some take a year off to travel, and others move back home. But senior Emma Kwiatkowski isn’t doing any of these things. Instead, she is going to ride a bike.
Kwiatkowski is donating her time this summer to help build houses with “Bike & Build.”
This national nonprofit raises money for affordable housing projects and awareness of the cause. Founded in 2002, “Bike & Build” has donated more than $5.1 million to affordable housing projects around the country, including Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together and other local nonprofits.
Through Bike & Build, Kwiatkowski will cycle from New England to the Pacific Northwest with 30 other volunteers on the Northern United States team. Along the way, they will raise funds and advocate for the cause by stopping in towns such as Buffalo, New York, and Bismark, North Dakota, to build homes for families in need.
“In our culture, not having a house can mess up your entire life,” she said. “People will travel to Guatemala or Honduras [to build] when there’s a housing problem in their backyards.”
The journey will begin in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, June 13. Over the following 10 weeks, the team will pedal more than 4,000 miles, an average of 69 per day, to Vancouver, British Columbia, arriving Aug. 27.
Biking cross-country has been on Kwiatkowski’s bucket list for as long as she can remember.
She inherited her passion for biking from her father, who once went on a similar cross-country venture, and her mother, who biked across parts of Europe. In high school, Kwiatkowski went on a few extended bike trips, including a three-week trip through Vermont, but has never biked a distance as long as Bike & Build’s route.
Kwiatkowski is excited about the volunteering opportunity. She said adequate housing is integral to life in the United States because it is difficult for homeless people or people in poor housing to find employment.
“We are deeply proud of riders like Emma,” said Justin Villere, Bike & Build’s director of operations and outreach. “Most Bike & Builders actually are not experienced cyclists or builders when the summer begins. We strive to engage young people with a passion for service and adventure. Because of this, our riders make an incredible impact in hundreds of communities.”
To participate, Kwiatkowski must raise $4,500. So far, she has raised $1,960, $1,300 of which she won in a computer coding tournament. To raise more, she hopes to organize a few fundraisers, like operating a food stand, but these projects are still in the works.
She is looking forward to spending the 10-week trip with a group of strangers. While looking at the Bike & Build Facebook page, she noticed previous riders still keep in touch.
“The friendships formed look really long-lasting and tight,” Kwiatkowski said.
Although volunteer work is the primary focus of the trip, she will also get to explore another side of the United States as she rides through national landmarks such as Glacier National Park and the Great Plains.
When she’s not biking or building, Kwiatkowski is eager to interact with townspeople, discover unfamiliar locations and have fun with her team.
“The best memories end up being ones you don’t expect,” she said.
Before her cross-country adventure begins, she has to prepare. All participants must log 500 hours of riding the bike they will be using. Kwiatkowski recently ordered her bike and will start training soon. For the remainder of the semester, she will try to log a few hours on Saturdays, but the majority of her training will be completed after she graduates.
The training is intense — one day she is required to bike 65 miles in preparation. Kwiatkowski is nervous about the physical requirements and safety concerns but is confident her journey will be a successful and worthwhile experience.
“I haven’t really experienced the real world outside the Elon bubble,” she said. “I want to help more in service and in local communities.”
Donations for the ride can be made to Kwiatowski’s Bike & Build profile page.