Monday, May 14, 2012

Burlington bicyclist works to provide low-income housing

From the Burlington Free Press
Alicia Marvin of Burlington will start a cross-country bicycle ride Wednesday as part of the Bike and Build program. The goal is to bike across the country and build houses for low-income people.
Alicia Marvin of Burlington will set off on a bike trip Wednesday; one that will take her far from the shores of Lake Champlain. Marvin will pedal more than 4,000 miles for the program Bike and Build, which raises money for affordable housing projects. In eight years, the program has raised about $3.4 million for projects that are planned and built by young adult volunteers. Cross-country cyclists are asked to raise $4,500 as part of a matching grant and Marvin is close to reaching that goal.

Marvin graduated from Burlington High School and went on to get degrees in architecture and environmental design from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2010. Rather than go straight to the business world, she decided to devote her first year out of college to community service through AmeriCorps. She spent the year with Habitat for Humanity in Delaware because she had previous experience with the organization, having volunteered for Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity during school breaks. Marvin’s initial interest in Habitat was professional — she wanted to see the building process in its three-dimensional form. But she became passionate about the organization’s work. 

“As I learned more about their mission, it inspired me to keep being involved,” she said. 

Bike and Build is sponsoring eight groups of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 to pedal cross-country this summer raising awareness and building houses. Marvin’s group of 26 will convene in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday and undergo three days of orientation before heading out. 

They are expected to arrive in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Aug. 6. In between, they are planning to build 17 houses; nine of which will be done during a five-day stint in New Orleans. The cyclists will carry food, water and bike repair tools, but the rest of their clothing and camping materials will be driven. Some nights the group will camp out, but on other nights they will take advantage of the hospitality of local residents, houses of worship or community structures like firehouses. People and organizations that host them will be given $100 to donate to local housing organizations. 

Two other riders with Vermont ties, Caitlin Patey, a 2010 graduate of Champlain College, and Andrew Lassiter, a 2010 graduate of the University of Vermont, are also taking part in Bike and Build rides. Patey will travel from Portsmouth, N.H., to Vancouver, B.C., while Lassiter will co-lead on Marvin’s route.

Riding cross country

Although Marvin purchased her first road bike for the trip, she is undaunted by the prospect of cycling across the United States.

“It’s a great way to see the country,” she said.

Besides, when the group rolls into town with their matching jerseys, they hope to inspire some discussion about affordable housing and perhaps persuade others to become involved in the cause.

“On a bike, you’re more accessible to people, and it’s easier to start a conversation,” she said.

The first day of cycling will be 35 miles, with mileage steadily growing until the group begins to average 70 miles a day. “You surprise yourself with how much you can do,” she said.

Marvin thinks her trip is something that many young people would be able to accomplish.

“You don’t need to be an athlete to do this,” she said. “You just need to have the commitment and determination to keep pedaling. It’s not a race, and it’s not a competition; it’s just a different way of traveling.”

Marvin hopes she and her fellow cyclists will be able to raise awareness in each town they visit.

“Across this country, a single person working a 40-hour week for a minimum wage isn’t able to afford the average rental apartment,” Marvin said. “Habitat for Humanity and other housing organizations make sure that someone in that position can afford a place to live that their children can come home to at night.”

To donate to Marvin’s project, visit

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