Remember that time, students, a few weeks into your first semester at Smith, when you said to your friends, “I’m gonna head home,” and for the first time "home" had a different meaning? No longer Boston, not Chicago anymore, nor California or wherever you came from. Home now meant Wilson, or Tyler, or Chapin house.
For many of us graduating seniors, Smith has been home for the past four years. A place to throw your backpack. A place to sleep in on a rainy day, share meals with friends, a place to feel safe and comfortable, and loved. Home is important.
As I prepare to leave Smith, I feel like I’m about to leave home again.
Come summer, home for me will be on the saddle of my shiny, new Giant aluminum-frame, 10-speed road bike. On Friday, June 18, I will set off with 30 other young people on a cross-country bike trip to raise money and awareness for affordable housing in the United States, with the nonprofit organization Bike & Build. Along the way, we cyclists will build houses with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, while getting to know the hometowns of hundreds of people across the country.
Not everyone has a good place to call home, even right here in the Pioneer Valley. In Hampshire and Franklin Counties, 69 percent of families renting low-income housing spend more than a third of their income on their homes. And there is not a single county in the United States in which an individual can afford even a one-bedroom apartment while working 40 hours a week at minimum wage.
Since 2002, Bike & Build has contributed more than $2.3 million dollars and 63,500 volunteer hours to affordable housing groups nationwide, sending more than 1,000 cyclists on several routes across the country. I will cycle from Boston to Santa Barbara, Calif.—about 3,700 miles—in less than 10 weeks. Our route will traverse the Berkshire and Appalachian mountains, cross the Mississippi River, pedal through Midwestern planes and the Mojave Desert, and around the Grand Canyon to the California coast.
We will stop in communities along the way to talk with people about our trip and the affordable housing issue, and help them become more involved in efforts to improve housing standards. Some days, we’ll trade our bikes for hammers and work with families on construction sites, where together, we will build the houses that will become their homes.