By Scott Meeker
Having finished putting in the floor joists the previous day, members of Bike & Build set to work Tuesday morning getting ready to install decking at the house under construction at 2310 S. Joplin Ave.
Having stepped aside to grab a drink, Ryan Scheuermann said that with a dozen volunteers on hand, the work was progressing at a quick pace.
“Most framing crews are just three guys, and it could take the whole day to do the floor system,” said Scheuermann, a site supervisor for Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity. “With this many people, it should take three hours. It means that houses get done faster.”
The group of young men and women working on the house Tuesday represented only half of the Bike & Build crew. The others were doing landscape work at another Habitat construction site.
This morning, they’ll hop on their bicycles and head out of Joplin on their way to another construction site in Tulsa, Okla.
Having departed June 18 from Portland, Maine, the group will volunteer at more than a dozen building sites before reaching Santa Barbara, Calif., on Aug. 31. Before coming to Joplin, the members volunteered their time at new houses being built in St. Louis and Springfield as they biked through Missouri.
Each summer, the program offers several opportunities for young people ages 18 to 25 to cross the country by bike to see the need for affordable housing and have a chance to make a difference. Participants are required to raise at least $4,500 to defray expenses for the trip and to help fund the group’s mission to provide housing for those in need.
“By the time we finish this trip, we’ll have done just about every aspect of building a house at one point or another,” said Bike & Build participant David Alderman.
The 23-year-old from Boston, Mass., said working in Joplin and other communities across the country has been an eye-opening experience.
“For a lot of us, it’s restored our faith in humanity,” Alderman said. “We’ve met so many nice people, and people have been so generous. It’s not just church groups, but also schools and different people who have been giving us meals and a roof to sleep under.”
Daniel LaFata, 22, from Erie, Pa., said he first heard about the Bike & Build program four years ago while he was in college.
“When I graduated, I thought, ‘I should do that this summer,’” he said.
While he didn’t have any previous building experience, LaFata said participants must put in sweat equity hours at a building site so they aren’t “totally clueless” when it comes time to provide volunteer labor.
Like Alderman, he said it’s been heartening to see the generosity of people as the team has stopped to work in different communities.
“On the road, people will see 30 (bicyclists) ride through all wearing the same uniform and will stop and talk to us,” LaFata said. “People have given us donations and food. It’s just amazing.”
Tessa Mandra, 24, of Nashua, N.H., is serving as one of the trip leaders for the Bike & Build group that worked in Joplin.
While raising funds and awareness for affordable housing is an important part of the organization’s goal, it’s not the only purpose, she said.
“It’s also about youth empowerment and civic service,” Mandra said. “A lot of these kids are just out of college, and the hope is that they do this and then carry it with them and make it part of their life plan.
“A lot of people who do this have gone on to work with AmeriCorps. We also have a lot of repeat riders, who ride and then become a trip leader the next year or a couple of years later.”
Mandra said spending two days working in Joplin was a different experience from some of the other building sites on the trip.
“When we’re building, we’re making an impact, but working in a disaster area makes it so much more real,” she said. “We’ve talked to a lot of the partner families who are moving into these (Habitat) houses. Yesterday, we met a woman whose house was completely destroyed by the tornado.
“It makes us feel like it’s so much more important to be working here.”
BIKE & BUILD, based in Philadelphia, Pa., has provided more than $4 million to housing groups to help fund projects that are planned and executed by young adults.