Although Joey Parker has built some impressive stamina as an avid cyclist, he would rather focus on building things that are even more important.
The 22-year-old UNC Chapel Hill student and 2008 Charlotte Catholic graduate is committed to a better quality of life for others. His next step in that quest is a 200-mile end-of-year ride in Florida with members of Bike & Build, a nonprofit organization that organizes cycling trips to benefit affordable housing in the United States.
That trip is a short jaunt. Bike & Build – geared heavily toward college students – features eight cross-country summer journeys that take eight to 11 weeks and require each rider to raise at least $4,500 in donations for a specific housing organization before the trip. Participants spend long days building houses during stops along the way.
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“During my sophomore year of college, I had a friend who participated in one of the cross-country summer trips. I knew I wanted to do one as well,” he says. “I applied to be a leader on one of the trips just because I thought it would be a really awesome opportunity, personally and professionally.”
He lead a trip from North Carolina to San Diego in the summer of 2011 between his junior and senior year. His team worked groups such as Habitat for Humanity or Rebuilding Together when stopping in places such as Chapel Hill, Buena Vista, Colo., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
From a building standpoint, the beauty of the trips is that some of them overlap.
“On the North Carolina-to-San Diego trip, we built an entire foundation for a house in Colorado Springs,” Parker says. “About a week later, one of the other trips -- South Carolina to Santa Cruz -- comes through, stays an entire week in Colorado Springs, and builds an entire house on top of that foundation.”
The end-of-year trip is an alumni event called the Chris Webber Memorial Ride, named in honor of the Bike & Build program director who was killed in a 2007 pedestrian accident in New York City. Although the distance and fundraising goals are more modest, Parker is already ahead of the pack.
The fundraising goal for each of the 38 participants is $275. By Dec. 10, Parker said he had already raised $345 via Facebook.
“I set my Facebook status, publicizing that I’ll be participating in the event and am soliciting donations. Then I include a link to the bio that I created on the organization’s website. Then whenever someone donates, I set my Facebook status to thank them for it and include my name on it.”
Fundraising for the main summer trips is more challenging. Members often get creative, with efforts ranging from car washes to dinners and other social events.
For events produced solely by Bike & Build, proceeds are distributed through a grant program. The organization and participants solicit grant applications from affordable housing organizations throughout the winter and spring. Bike & Build participants then review and evaluate the proposals, and vote on which proposals the organization will fund.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, Bike & Build says it has donated more than $4 million; built for more than 120,000 hours; pedaled more than 6million miles; and engaged more than 1,750 young adults in spreading the word about the affordable housing crisis in America. UNC Chapel Hill sophomore Olivia Karas shares that mission with Parker.
“My interest in affordable housing is something that has only surfaced in the last year or so,” says Karas, a Providence High graduate. “But in that short time, it has come to hold an important spot on the small list of things I would say that I am passionate about, particularly because Chapel Hill is a town struggling with growing pains and rising home costs. ....
“I feel so fortunate for this opportunity and am incredibly excited to take part in this adventure that allows me to see the beautiful country that I love while working to find ways to alleviate the lack of affordable housing that affects some of the people who mean the most to me.”
Parker, who’s hoping to build a career in nonprofit management, is impressed with Bike & Build’s efficiency: “As an organization, they have really low administrative costs, so a lot of the fundraising goes toward affordable housing and the things that it has set out to support.
“The quality and affordability of housing can have a huge impact on someone’s health and livelihood, and the experience of biking across the country and meeting people is awesome. It’s been really life-changing. We’re like a family.”