ST. JOHN— Waking up before dawn and biking 80 miles in the summer heat may sound extreme to some, but doing so is just a normal day for participants of Bike and Build, an affordable housing nonprofit that bikes cross country annually. In years past, Bike and Build teams have stopped in Stafford County, spending two nights in St. John to work with Stafford County Economic Development (Eco Devo).
Due to COVID-19, the summer of 2020 is the first time in its 17-year history that Bike and Build has not sent riders across the country. Eco Devo and Bike and Build adapted quickly to this change of plans in the spring, and the two organizations collaborated to create a summer internship in St. John.
Two cyclists-turned-interns, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Baker and Eliza Lawrence, arrived in St. John in late June and began work with Eco Devo. Baker and Lawrence have since worked on a variety of projects in St. John, including the development of an outdoor community space and working on the renovation of an old photography studio in town.
While not the typical Bike and Build summer, this collaborative internship has still given Baker and Lawrence a unique chance to do hands-on affordable housing and economic development work.
Normally, Bike and Build sends 75 young-adult cyclists across the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along northern, central, and southern routes. In late May, riders dip their back wheel in the Atlantic, beginning a journey that travels over 3,000 miles in ten weeks. Along the way, these teams complete an average of 10,000 hours of service and raise over $375,000 for the affordable housing cause.
During their summer trip, Bike and Build riders spend one day a week off their bikes, constructing homes and participating in community-based education work. In 2014, the Bike and Build central route team passed through Dodge City, Kansas, where they first met the founding Executive Director of Eco Devo, Carolyn Dunn. Dunn traveled from her home in St. John to speak to the Bike and Build team about rural affordable housing. The following year, Dunn reached out to Bike and Build organizers, and St. John has since hosted a Bike and Build team in 2015, 2016, and 2019.
The work that Bike and Build has completed in Stafford County varies widely, as projects depend on the specific needs of Eco Devo. In years past, volunteer days have included the partial demolition of a home in Hudson, the painting of houses in Stafford, and construction work on an apartment in St. John.