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Cross-country bike-and-build campaign launches at Habitat project in Freeport

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Cross-country bike-and-build campaign launches at Habitat project in Freeport

FREEPORT — They started with their back tires in the Atlantic and they'll end with their front ones in the Pacific.

For the 75 days in between, members of Bike and Build will be creating affordable housing in different cities as they bike their way across the country.

"I'm really excited to bike across the country, and it's for a good cause," said Rose Matthews, a participant from Boise, Idaho.

The 33 participants of Bike and Build started their trip in Freeport on June 19, where they worked on a house being built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland. They will end in Santa Barbara, California, on Aug. 30. Most of the group's 13 stops will be to work at Habitat build sites, although they will do other projects as well.

The program focuses on getting young adults, ages 18-25, interested in volunteering and giving back. According to one of the four trip leaders, Emily Hittner, most of the participants graduated from college this year.

Katherine Arn, of Jacksonville, Florida, said she became interested in Bike and Build after her friend participated last year. Although Arn has no previous experience in construction or cycling, she already embodies Bike and Build's mission to make young people into leaders.

"It's cool to see the impact we can make," Arn said. "I'm excited to see what we can do."

Arn said she doesn't have too many worries or anxieties about the long trip, although she joked about watching out for oncoming cars. According to Hittner, Bike and Build participants go through extensive safety training and riders have to prove themselves before they can make the trip.

Preparation for the journey included training 500 miles on a bicycle, volunteering 10 hours for an affordable housing project, and raising $4,500, among other application requirements. Hittner said there is a "steep learning curve."

Although the riders are required to raise money, most of their trip's necessities are donated. Most of the housing and food will be provided by churches in the towns where they will be working. At the end of the summer, the group decides which charity or organization will receive their cash donation.

"The less money we spend on food and housing, the more we can give back," Hittner said.

Hittner did Bike and Build last year as a participant before becoming a trip leader this summer. She said she was able to learn about herself and about people in general.

"I have a more intense appreciation for all of the wonderful people we meet," Hittner said. "I appreciate generosity in people."

Sean Hannon of Chicago, who said he has wanted "to get into the Habitat for Humanity world," said he is looking forward to helping others. More than anything though, he said he thinks this trip will be a chance for him to learn more about himself.

"I think it'll be more of a personal growth," Hannon said. "I want to do some self-finding."

There are eight different groups participating in Bike and Build this year, each doing a route through a different part of the country. The group doing work in Freeport, and that departed from Portland the following morning, is the only one coming through Maine.

Lauren Duplissis, the communications and volunteer manager for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, said she was glad the group was able to start their journey in Freeport.

"It means a lot for our families to see people who care," Duplissis said. "It's tremendous for Habitat (for Humanity) and our families, and for the greater Freeport community."

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Video: Bike and Build in Freeport