“I really like helping people.”
This is the unanimous driving factor behind two Temple sophomores, who will be hopping on their bikes and pedaling across the country this summer in the name of affordable housing.
Travis Southard and Rogelio Ayllón will be taking the ultimate road trip, powered by their own sweat and determination, and an organization called Bike and Build, a nonprofit that organizes cross-country bike trips to spread the mission of affordable housing.
Founded in 2002, Bike and Build now has eight routes mapped across the country, stretching from the East to West coasts. Groups of 25 to 30 people take up the challenge, not only as a feat of strength, but to serve needy communities by building affordable houses along the way.
Southard has a history of long-term service and volunteering. He spent two years serving in a North Philadelphia school under City Year and still works with kindergarteners and first-graders in the after-school program.
“I have a real passion for service and helping people,” Southard said, “And that comes from being a person who carries a lot of privilege. I am a skinny, straight, white guy, and there is a lot of privilege that comes with that.”
Southard said he hopes to be able to leverage this privilege throughout his life to help others, and personally feels his most powerful when he is doing service.
“I think that people can learn incredibly important things about themselves and their communities, and really dissuade assumptions by doing service,” he said.
Ayllón calls himself a beginner when it comes to biking. He credits his sister for the courage to take on this trip.
“I was looking through her pictures, and saw all the people she was helping out, and I thought, ‘I want to do that,’” he said.
Ayllón said he also draws motivation from his past struggles as an immigrant growing up in the United States. He said when he was 10 years old, his parents moved him away from the violence happening in Mexico City to better educational opportunities in the U.S.
“We came to the United States with $10 in our pockets, but I never suffered from having to look for a place to live,” he said, adding that he is now dedicated to the Bike and Build trip, because nonprofit organizations helped his family a great deal when they were transitioning to life in the U.S.
“It’s surprising how deep the affordable housing crisis is in the United States and I just want to do a little part to help out,” Ayllón said.
The cyclists will travel more than 4,000 miles on their trips this summer. Ayllón will bike through 17 states from Providence, R.I., to Half Moon Bay in California, just outside San Francisco. Southard’s route is the “longest and strongest,” stretching 4,264 miles from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Cruz, Calif.
“This will be my longest trip ever, completely disregarding the bike,” Southard said.
Each morning, the teams will wake at 6 a.m. to meet and lay out the roads they will be using that day and where they will be stopping for lunch. The riders can then bike at their own pace to the locations, stopping along the way or traveling off the route to take in the sights. The team will meet again in the evening, where they will give presentations on what affordable housing is and why they are doing this trip to each community they stay in. About 15 days of the trip will be spent in select towns, where the cyclists will lay down their bikes for hammers and nails to build houses with local affordable housing groups.
Before the cyclists see any of the open road, they have to prepare – physically and financially.
“We’ve been accepted to the ride, but now we kind of have to prove ourselves by raising $4,500 for this cause and doing 10 hours of sweat equity,” Southard said.
“Sweat equity” amounts to 10 hours of service with a local affordable housing group, like Habitat for Humanity.
The riders will be able to give away a personal grant of $500 from their fundraising to an organization they feel is doing great service in its communities. All of the funds raised aside from this personal grant and the money needed for the bikes, food and support along the way, will be pooled by each group and given away as competitive grants to affordable housing groups across the country. These grants could total around $80,000.
Fundraising has been a challenge in itself for the riders. Online pleas could not get the results needed to go on the trip, so Southard and Ayllón have taken to public spaces around Philadelphia to ask for donations. The two set up their bikes on trainers, allowing them to pedal in place while asking passers-by in Rittenhouse Square and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for their generosity. Southard was also awarded a grant of $200 by the Catch the Dream Foundation, an honor he received by catching the attention of the foundation’s founder as he pedaled in Rittenhouse Square.
Both cyclists still have a little more than $1,500 to fundraise before the start of their trips, but they said they are confident they can reach their goals.
“A lot of people have their doubts that I’ll be able to make it,” Ayllón said. “They hear ‘biking across the country’ and they just look at me and say, ‘good luck.’ But it’s doable.”
You can follow the cyclists’ adventures this summer through their blogs on bikeandbuild.org. You can also use the site to show your support by donating to Southard and Ayllón.
Rachel McDevitt can be reached at email@example.com.