Bike and Build volunteers give a boost to Beloit projects

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Angel Idowu
Thursday, July 10, 2014

BELOIT--Members of Bike and Build who helped in Beloit on Wednesday said they have one goal for their three-month trip across the United States: to work and to raise awareness about affordable housing.

The Bike and Build Northern U.S. group will bike this summer from New Hampshire to Vancouver, volunteering along the way for affordable housing programs.

Bike and Build riders worked Wednesday with Community Action on neighborhood projects in Beloit's Merrill Neighborhood. They were dispersed across three or four jobs sites to work on community gardens, help with the construction of homes and help rebuild school gardens.

One member of the Bike and Build group, Kristen Schwerin, 26, Tuscan, Arizona, said she likes giving back.

“This is so rewarding,” Schwerin said. “But it's hard to be away, constantly moving from one town to another.”

“But traveling with such a big group makes it easier,” Schwerin said. “We work together and help one another. There's a constant support there that you really need to do this, and I think we all work together to make sure everyone feels that needed support.”

Upon arrival at a work site location, the builders do whatever is needed.

“I almost feel selfish for doing this,” Schwerin said. “I am getting so much out of this experience, I want to give back as much as I can.”

Members of the Bike and Build Northern U.S. group stayed in the First Presbyterian Church in Janesville. The church that has been hosting Bike and Build riders for about 10 years.

“The kids are always so very generous and respectful when they stay,” church member Julie Janiak said. “With a group of about 30, it can get a little out of hand but the riders are always so generous and very respectful. It makes for a great time.”

John Ramstad, Community Action director of housing and engineering, said the group had a successful workday Wednesday.

“This is my fourth or fifth year with Community Action, and I always love when Bike and Build comes to volunteer,” Ramstad said. “Seven years ago, we bought about 14 homes in the Merrill Community, and today we're at 20. We work with neighbors in the area to help strengthen the community; we want to help it grow.

Ramstad is a former executive director for Habitat for Humanity and understands what it takes to be successful in affordable housing projects and programs.

“It is not your average young person who decides to raise $4,000 and bike across the country to raise awareness of housing affordability,” Ramstad said. “So when you have that high level of positive support and activity, it makes doing this so much easier and so, so rewarding.”

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