Cyclists roll through East Providence to assist with affordable housing efforts

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Congregants of St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Warren Avenue in city played host to a gaggle of adventurous and amiable young people over four days this week, the group associated with the  non-profit Bike & Build Inc. committed to assisting in the construction of affordable housing nationally.

The riders were housed at St. Mary's from June 9 to 12 as they began a cross-country trek taking them from Rhode Island to Half Moon Bay, Calif., as they raise money and awareness for affordable housing causes. On Wednesday they did their part locally, assisting in an effort being done by the Greater Providence chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

"You hear so much negativity about young people, but these kids were great. They give you a new outlook on the good things some kids are doing today," said Mike Boyce, the Junior Warden at St. Mary's.

The cyclists reached East Providence Monday evening and, according to Mr. Boyce, were given free-reign to use the church's facilities. They proved to be welcomed and appreciated guests.

The riders, mostly ranging in age from 18 to 25, will travel roughly 50 miles per day at the start in the more congested areas of the East Coast. Once they near the mid-west, they'll expand their daily rides to upwards of 100 to 150 miles. The purpose of Bike & Build is to expose young people to "the country’s affordable housing crisis through organized bicycle trips," according to program literature.

"This could not have gone any better. It was kind of like an adventure for us, too," Mr. Boyce said Thursday morning, as he and several others witnessed the riders dip their tires in the Seekonk River at Bold Point prior to heading westward. It's a tradition of the program. They'll do the same once they reach California.

"They came in Monday night and stayed through last night. We had no problems, no issues whatsoever," Mr. Boyce continued. "We had a cookout for them Monday night. I told them we didn't have much muscle around here, so we needed some help. They said no problem. They had the place cleaned up in no time. They were very nice, very inquisitive. They asked us more questions, than we asked them. It was a very enjoyable experience."

The Bike & Build riders have in the past stayed at St. Martin's Church on the East Side of Providence, but could not this year. The group contacted St. Mary's. Previously unaware of the program, Mr. Boyce said he did the necessary research then sought and received permission from St. Mary's Vicar Peter Michaelson allowing the cyclists to bunk at the church.

Bike & Build, based in Philadelphia since its founding in 2003, offers eight cross-country biking trips each summer. The riders stop in towns along their route and participate in construction efforts at affordable housing sites that are in progress. They also meet with local officials and community members to discuss affordable housing issues. The group will travel for 10 weeks, each rider attempting to raise $4,500 to help fund the trip costs and the program's affordable housing efforts nationwide.

"We would welcome them back. I hope they do come back next year," Mr. Boyce added. "They did so much for us, as much or more than we did for them."

For more information visit www.bikeandbuild.org or call 267-331-8488.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.