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Benjamin ’14 to bike across U.S. after graduation

Mark Benjamin ’14 will bike from Portsmouth, N.H. to Vancouver, British Columbia over the course of 10 weeks this summer as a Bike & Build rider.

Bike & Build is a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, Pa. that raises young adults’ awareness of affordable housing issues by organizing cycling trips across the United States. Bike & Build grants money every year to other nonprofit organizations — such as Habitat for Humanity — through money raised by its riders. The organization also engages the riders in field work across the country.

“I wanted to do it because I wanted to bike, and I think it’s an added bonus that I get to work on an issue that I don’t know a whole lot about and looking to learn more about, but an issue that is tied to other issues that I do care a lot about.”  Benjamin said.

The Northern United States route that Benjamin chose is one of 10 routes that Bike & Build offers. There are approximately 32 people per route.

“The thing we are really proud of is that we are not only engaging young adults for the cause, we are able to grant almost half a million dollars every year to partners.” said Justin Villere, Bike & Build director of operations and outreach.

During the trip, riders between the ages of 18 and 25 will meet with partner organizations and stop every four or five days to volunteer on build sites.

“We grant the money, and we also build with them,” Villere said. “Our riders bring in a very contagious spirit with them and inspire other people to continue services as well.”

Prior to the trip, riders prepare by volunteering in local build sites, learn about affordable housing and ride 500 miles in preparation for the long bike rides in the summer.

“It’s important to know that you don’t have to have experience in biking or building to do Build & Build,” Vlliere added. “You don’t have to be a big cyclist or builder to join the cause.”

Before the start of the trip, every participant is required to raise $4,500, half of which will be used for personal expenses and the other half donated to affordable housing nonprofits on the road.

Benjamin said he is contributing $2,500 of the total amount to pay for his own living expenses and will raise $2,000. So far, Benjamin has already raised $1,000.

“A lot more needs to happen before I start biking.” Benjamin said.

Benjamin has participated in a wide range of service work at the University. During his sophomore and junior years, Benjamin helped run Student Volunteer Council imPACT, a program that teaches language arts to middle school students in Trenton. Benjamin is currently involved with Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, an independent nonprofit that sends students to tutor inmates in state prisons.

Benjamin said that he understands the limits to what such trips could accomplish.

“We are not going to solve affordable housing in a summer or anything like that,” Benjamin said. “It’s very much about teaching people about the issues, making some small contributions and learning about the issues ourselves that could influence our future action.”

Benjamin is a computer science major and will work as a software engineer for Microsoft after graduation.

“I have lived in New Jersey my entire life, and I’ll move to Seattle next year, and this is a chance to see everything in between.” he said.

His trip will begin on June 12.

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