After dipping their wheels in the Seekonk River, 30 bicyclists shoved off a few weeks ago from the Brown Boat House in Providence to begin a two-and-a-half-month journey to Seattle. They are participating in one of seven cross-country trips sponsored by Bike & Build, a New York-based nonprofit that coordinates summer biking ex-cursions to help fund affordable housing projects.

Amelia Hanley, executive director of Bike & Build, says the organization has raised more than $1.1 million for housing since 2003, including $391,000 just from last summer.

Hanley says the donations have funded projects in 42 states and one province, as well as in hundreds of local communities. She gives some credit to the Internet — specifically social-networking sites like Facebook — for Bike & Build’s growth. Starting with 60 riders on two treks, B&B now offers seven treks for a total of 215 riders.

Bicyclist enthusiast Jake Stangel, 22, a recent New York University graduate, has participated in the organization’s rides for two seasons. A friend introduced him to Bike & Build, and Stangel, one of four route leaders on the current ride from Providence to Seattle, joined after wishing he had participated in more volunteer work while in college. “I had the time of my life last time,” he says. “There was no other option.”

Marc Bush, a former Habitat Bicycle Challenge leader who wanted to expand affordable housing efforts, founded Bike & Build in 2002.

Other routes organized by Bike & Build include trips from Boston to Santa Barbara; across the central, southern, or northern US; from North Carolina to San Diego; and from Providence to San Francisco.

Bike & Build’s Web site enables a forum in which participating cyclists can document their trip through a blog and an online journal.

Herman deKoe, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Providence, says grassroots efforts like this offer vital support for local organizations.

The housing activist, who spoke to the crowd of bicyclists as they began their 70-mile-a-day trek to Seattle a few weeks ago, says Bike & Build last year donated $105,000 locally, just $5000 short of what it takes Habitat to build a new home.

“That’s a lot of money,” deKoe says. “The impact is that we can build one more house.” As it happened, B&B’s donation, about one-fifth of the amount received last year by Habitat’s local chapter, paid for half of an affordable duplex on Public Street in South Providence.

This kind of help, as deKoe notes, is all the more needed during Rhode Island’s ongoing budget crisis. “In the last year, [more] families slipped back into substandard housing,” he says. “By providing a decent house, we can sometimes break that cycle.”

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