February 22, 2016 by travelinggrits
During graduate school, the Traveling Grits have mostly been stuck to the pot. It’s time to stir things up again. For my next journey, I’m logging 841 miles, and this time I’m not taking my passport.
I will complete dual master’s degrees in public health and city and regional planning this May. Before hitting the work world, I will participate in a three-week bike trip through New England in June with Bike & Build to raise money and awareness for the cause of affordable housing and stop to raise walls with community organizations along the way.
Outdoor adventures. Service to the community. Meeting new people. Exploring new places.
Doesn’t that sound like me?
When I heard about Bike & Build last year from a former participant, it resonated with me. My most memorable service experiences from high school were participating in yearly mission trips with my high school youth group to build and repair homes, and I credit these early experiences with inspiring my dedication to the cause of affordable housing. I continued this commitment to housing initiatives in undergrad through yearly work weekends with LATCH (Lutherans Acting to Correct Housing) in South Carolina as a member of my college campus ministry. I also participated in a spring break service trip to Detroit, where we worked with Motor City Blight Busters to support neighborhood revitalization through demolition and repair driven by community members. My current graduate studies have reinforced the intangible importance of safe housing for health, community, and quality of life.
Biking has become a recent and important passion for me. Growing up, I never biked outside my neighborhood because the nearest roads only supported vehicle traffic. When I moved to a bike-friendly community for graduate school, I became empowered to take alternative modes of travel, and eventually this active lifestyle became a part of my identity and even part of my graduate studies in my focus areas of Health Behavior and Transportation. I have worked for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership as a research advisor, and this has opened up my understanding of the influence of physical and social environments on participation in walking and biking, the opportunity for biking and walking to increase children’s physical activity and other health outcomes, and the multi-faceted strategies and stakeholder partnerships it takes to facilitate Safe Routes to School. Additionally, in the summer of 2015 I worked in San Francisco as a research consultant to the San Francisco Department of Public Health on Vision Zero, a road safety initiative intended to reduce traffic-related injuries and death by 2024.
Through my work with Safe Routes to School and Vision Zero, I’ve contributed to the research that supports broad policy and systems change, but now it’s time for me to engage in “boots on the ground” advocacy in community contexts through Bike & Build. Community engagement and service learning are a core value for me, and I’ve missed these experiences since I’ve been buried in the books. For my first two years at UNC, I was the graduate assistant for APPLES Alternative Breaks, and in this role I supported undergraduate student leaders in planning meaningful community engagement programs. I also co-taught a course on “Critical Approaches to Service Learning,” in which we explored concepts like identity and privilege, advocacy and social change, and asset-based community development. Although it has been immensely rewarding to build the capacity of students to carry out service and leadership roles and to watch them transform through course discussion and written reflections, I have been yearning to engage in more direct service and learn through the work of my hands once again.
And that starts now. Bike & Build emphasizes being prepared, mind and body, for the experience. Before I start, I’ll bike at least 500 miles and get the right gear—but that’s really not the most important part. Today I participated in my first day of “sweat equity” working with local affordable housing organizations.
I started out the afternoon a little distracted, feeling hurried from a busy morning and mulling over unfinished tasks from the day before. With every pound of my hammer, my anxiety melted, and I felt more alert and alive than I have in weeks. I felt reconnected with my purpose and reenergized to point my compass toward this challenge, just a little over 100 days away. My confidence in telling the story of my upcoming Bike & Build journey also grew with each new acquaintance on the worksite, as I share with you now.
On my Bike & Build journey, I will ride in tribute to the communities in my home state that are rebuilding after the massive flooding from Hurricane Joaquin in fall 2015. I will ride in support of safe streets in cities big and small. I will ride for the opportunity to explore our nation’s beautiful towns and connect with the young and old. I will bring enthusiasm, passion, and spunk to cheer on my fellow riders and leave positive impressions on the communities where we work. I will come with an open mind and leave with renewed perspective. I will reach new heights. I will bike. I will build.
But I’m not there yet—I need your help to get rolling. Can you give me some “fuel” to go the distance? You can check out more of my story, see my route, and make a donation by visiting my rider page: http://classic.bikeandbuild.org/rider/8767
Thank you in advance for any support, large or small, you can provide to pave the way for my journey. All donations are tax deductible. We distribute the proceeds through a competitive grant application process decided by the rider teams, and I will also get to send some funds to a beneficiary of my choice. Please see my rider page for more information on suggested donation amounts.
Questions? Comments? Encouragement? Leave your comments below, and keep following Traveling Grits if you want to go along for the ride.