It's not unusual for people to take trips this time of year.
But not many people will likely attempt a 560-mile bicycle ride from Richmond, Va., to Philadelphia with four stops along the way to help build houses for the needy.
Area native Amanda Smith will, however, when she sets out July 7 from her Wheeling home on a two-week adventure as part of Bike & Build, a nonprofit organization that arranges cross-country and regional fundraising cycling trips to benefit the affordable housing cause in the United States.
According to Wikipedia, participants on Bike & Build trips range in age from 18 to 25. Rides have up to 34 participants, including four designated leaders. Since its inception in 2002, Bike & Build has directly involved more than 1,250 young adults and has donated more than $3.3 million to affordable housing charities to fund projects executed by young people.
A former resident of Steubenville and Weirton who graduated from Edison High School in 2007, Smith said she first heard about Bike & Build during her senior year at Walsh University where she graduated from in 2011 with a degree in English and a degree in adolescent and young adult integrated language arts.
"I thought it sounded really interesting," said the 23-year-old daughter of Rodney and Michele Smith of the state Route 213, Steubenville, area where she grew up with a younger brother, Dalton, and sister, Kelsey.
"However, I thought I could never do something like that. I'm not a cyclist," said Smith, who teaches eighth-grade English at Linsly School in Wheeling where she also coaches and works in the boarding department.
Smith's interest flourished.
"In early January, I decided that I would apply for the Capital Ride, and a few days later I found out that I was accepted for the trip," she said, citing God as one of the biggest influences on her decision to be a part of Bike & Build.
"At the time when I was thinking about applying, I was reading scripture in Deuteronomy and read Deuteronomy 15:11 - 'There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land,'" Smith said.
"This really stuck out to me and truly inspired me to help support affordable housing. There were many verses in Deuteronomy that were speaking to me about the trip, but this one stuck out the most. I realized that I take a lot of things for granted like having shelter, and I decided that this was an issue that I needed to become more aware of," she said.
The trip requires the Bike and Build participants to pedal on a bike from each location to the next over a two-week period. "Along the way, we will be stopping at four 'build sites' where we will actually help build housing for families in need," Smith said of the trip that ends July 21.
"We pedal anywhere from 51 to 79 miles a day when we are on the road. We will be stopping to build in Richmond, Va., Charlottesville, Va., Frederick, Md., and Philadelphia, Pa. We will be doing various things from roofing, setting the foundation, painting, and any typical constructing of a house we'll be able to participate in," she said.
Smith will be one of 23 on the trip, all of them strangers from all across the country.
"I'm not nervous about not knowing anyone, though, because I have a feeling we will get to know each other pretty quick with the amount of road time we will be sharing and spending two straight weeks together. They are also pedaling for the same cause so we have one thing in common for sure," she said.
Still, Smith has her work cut out for her.
For one thing, she is working to raise $1,700 to go on the trip.
"The proceeds will be used to gain media attention for affordable housing and fund affordable housing projects executed by young adults - empowering them to make larger contributions in their communities. Because this is a regional ride, and Bike and Build is based out of Philadelphia, money will be allotted in a manner that furthers Bike and Build's local impact and presence. In addition to small local donations, a large portion of the proceeds will go to Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, with the remainder going to Bike and Build at large to improve operations and reduce future costs," she said.
Smith said anyone who wants to donate toward her trip can do so online by going to bikeandbuild.org/donate.
"They can find my name, Amanda Smith, and donate to my account then. Or, they can send a check payable to Bike & Build, with my name in the memo of the check. Checks can be sent to Bike & Build Inc., 6109 Ridge Ave., Bldg 2, Philadelphia, PA 19128," she said.
Questions also can be directed to Smith by e-mail to email@example.com.
Aside from the financial commitment, there's a physical one, too.
"I've been training since January in the gym, lifting weights with my arms and legs, getting time on the bike, elliptical, treadmill and pool," she said. "I don't feel that I can train enough, so I've been working out five to six days a week. It's actually kind of funny, because I've never been into cycling until I found out I was accepted in January. I didn't even own a bike or know about 'clipping in and out of the pedals,' which requires a great deal of practice and some falling," Smith said.
In February, she bought her first bike, a Trek Lexa, and has been learning the ropes ever since.
"I've logged a few big rides and have a few more in store before the trip. One ride I recently went on was a 50-mile ride through the back roads to Bethany College. The hills were awesome practice, and I felt both mentally and physically prepared after finishing. I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me as Philippians 4:13 states. But, continuing to hit the gym, log some more rides and staying active will definitely help me get even more comfortable," Smith said.
Being a part of the experience appeals to her.
"I think this is a great group with an awesome purpose. Having shelter is something that I think a lot of people my age take for granted, so pedaling 560 miles and working hands on on sites will really help raise awareness about a big issue in our country, affordable housing. Plus, I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing than helping others," Smith said.
Asked what one thing she'd like to get across to readers, Smith said, "I'd like readers to know that there is always something that you can do no matter how old or young, how active, or how involved you are, or even how much money you have. It's not about being the best or the right age or in perfect shape, or even being rich, it's about showing love to other people who need to know you care, and it's about helping those in need.
"I find that challenging myself to be more selfless is so rewarding and filled with many blessings along the way. What can you do?"
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)