Cross-country bike ride benefits housing


Sophomore Jake Bruce plans to ride his bicycle across the United States to bring awareness to Bike and Build, an organization that raises funds for sustainable housing. George Mullinix/KANSAN

Sophomore Jake Bruce plans to ride his bicycle across the United States to bring awareness to Bike and Build, an organization that raises funds for sustainable housing. George Mullinix/KANSAN

For many students, this summer will include lounging by the pool and hanging out with friends, avoiding anything too strenuous. Sophomore Jake Bruce is taking the opposite track: his summer will include a 4,250-mile bike ride across the United States, all in the name of promoting sustainable housing.

Bruce, a mechanical engineering major from Shawnee, is completing the trek through the U.S. with the organization Bike and Build, a national nonprofit that raises awareness and funds for sustainable housing. Along with 30 other members of his team, Bruce will spend 10 weeks pedaling across the country and building sustainable housing along the way. 

A serious bike rider for the past three years, Bruce found out about the Bike and Build program from a family friend during his junior year of high school.

“I forgot about it for like a year, but then I looked it up and found out it was something that I could actually do if I fundraised enough money and if I trained enough,” Bruce said. “It just seemed like a really awesome thing.”

Inspired by a Habitat for Humanity biking challenge, Bike and Build was founded in 2003 by Mike Bush. The program started at Yale University and quickly became a national program. The organization’s goal is two-fold: to benefit and address the affordable housing crisis and to engage young adults who are looking to participate in community service.

“The idea is to engage young adults in service, because they have so much idealism and passion for giving back,” said Justin Villere, director of operations and outreach at Bike and Build. “They also have the energy to do it. There’s nothing quite like seeing the country and meeting so many different people who are affected by the same problem.”

Bruce’s journey begins on May 22, when he will set out from Charleston, South Carolina, on his cross-country ride. The trip includes 11 stops in various cities, such as Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs, where the team will work with programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together and local nonprofits. The team will arrive in Santa Cruz, California, on Aug. 11.

Bruce was required to fundraise $4,500 for his cross-country trip. These funds help to cover the purchase of a brand-new bike, as well as any additional food and housing costs during the trip. 

“There’s been people that I’ve sent letters to who are literally family of my friends from grade school,” he said. “I typed up a letter, sent it to them, and a week later, a large amount of money was donated to Bike and Build. And it’s not just one family in particular either; a bunch of people have done that.”

He said he was surprised at the amount of generosity people displayed toward his project.

“It just blows my mind how little of a personal connection 

I have with them, but how much of a connection they have for contributing towards a great cause,” Bruce said.

This summer, Bike and Build has eight cross-country routes and one regional route, a three-week program which will extend down the eastern seaboard. Combined, these routes include more than 300 participants, according to Villere. Volunteer riders can apply in November and Bike and Build rarely denies anyone, as long as the program has the space.

For Villere, the amount of volunteers the program receives each year is astonishing.

“It’s fantastic that they are able to sacrifice their summer to do something to really help other people,” he said. “This is a really selfless way to live during this summer. It requires a lot of effort, but they’ll be getting a lot out of this trip by way of friendships and building experience. There’s something very selfless about the people who do this program, and they’re able to connect with people from around the country.”

After being accepted, riders are responsible for training to be able to ride an average of 71 miles per day. Bruce is optimistic of his own ability, although his training has not been what he anticipated.

“It’s been really sporadic,” he said. “There’s been weeks where I literally finish all my homework on a Monday, because there’s not much to do, and I’ll just bike Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I’ll hit up mountain bike trails, just to do something different or go on a road bike trip with some friends. Or there’s weeks like last week, where I didn’t bike at all. It’s been kind of all over the place.”

In addition to training, all participants are required to complete Sweat Equity, which is 10 hours of volunteering at a local housing program. Participants must also conduct interviews with a housing program other than Habitat for Humanity and an affordable housing beneficiary. Bruce also had to work with a team partner to research a town that will be one of the stops on the trip. 

“To find another [housing program] was really hard for me,” Bruce said. “It took a lot of time on Google for me to find one. I ended up going down to Wyandotte County and interviewing Community Housing of Wyandotte County, which was really interesting. They’re really cool guys and they’re a lot more community-oriented than just building-a-single-house oriented.”

While Bruce is looking forward to sightseeing across the U.S., he said the trip means much more to him than that. 

“I think affordable housing is really important,” he said. “Not only does it provide a house to live in, but a healthier home to live in. With a healthier home, you have a healthier family and with a healthier family, you have more of a positive society. Affordable housing has improved a lot of lives, and that’s the most important part of this trip — it’s benefitting a nonprofit and helping people improve the situations in their lives.”


  • Updated May. 7, 2014 at 11:33 pm