Alumna, Weinberg junior spend summer biking cross country, building homes


Source: Bike & Build

Weinberg junior Allie Rawson (third from left) and Emily Hittner (Weinberg ’13) (second from right) were both a part of a 30-person Bike & Build group that spent 70 days cycling across Northern America, 10 of which were spent building in specific locations. The group started in New Hampshire and ended up in Vancouver.

Paulina Firozi, Managing Editor

At times during their almost 4,000-mile cycling trip across the country, Weinberg junior Allie Rawson and Emily Hittner (Weinberg ’13) would scream “Northwestern” at the top of their lungs.

Rawson and Hittner had only encountered each other briefly on campus before they found out they were both on the same North American route for Bike & Build, an organization that raises funds for affordable housing and sends people on cycling and building trips around the nation.

The 30 people in the NU duo’s group started in Lebanon, N.H., and were in Vancouver by the end of 70 days, 10 of which were spent building.

Rawson said she learned about the trip through her sister’s friend, who had done it a few years ago, and she knew she wanted to do it eventually.

“I sort of felt, how my studies were working out, that if I didn’t do it this summer I would lose the opportunity,” she said. “It was kind of now or never.”

(Northwestern senior to bike across country this summer)

Both riders’ interest in affordable housing and the trip’s mission were sparked by their involvement in NU’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Rawson led a Habitat trip to Michigan last winter and Hittner was president of the chapter her junior year. Hittner said she had been active within the organization and with the politics of affordable housing in some way for 11 years.

The pair’s route was one of eight cross country trips that start somewhere on the east coast and head west for the summer. Since 2003, Bike & Build has sent people ages 18 to 28 on cycling trips that have raised more than $4.5 million for affordable housing organizations like Habitat, Rebuilding Together and their affiliates across the country.

Each participant must raise $4,500 by the trip’s start date, $1,000 of which goes toward the bike used for the trip.

Hittner said she mostly asked family and friends at NU for donations. For her 22nd birthday in December, she asked everyone to donate $22 toward her trip in lieu of buying gifts, which contributed toward the $1,000 deadline for her bike. 

Justin Villere, Bike & Build’s director of operations and outreach, said there is no volunteer or even athletic requirement for applying for these trips, though he said most, like Rawson and Hittner, have been in similar organizations.

“A lot of our riders have been involved with Habitat or some affordable housing organization. But there are some who haven’t and it’s definitely not required,” Villere said. “We’re really just looking for young adults who have a passion for service in some form.”

But Villere said there is training once the riders are selected for the program to ensure they are ready for the rigorous cycling schedule of the trip.

Rawson admitted she didn’t stick to the training regimen as much as she should have and was grateful to the people in her group for their patience.

“One of the first days, we were going up these mountains,” she said. “And my friend was belting ‘The Little Mermaid’ as we were going up, and I just kept saying, ‘I can do it, the Little Mermaid will get me through.'”

Hittner and Rawson are two of 32 NU students who have participated in the program since its beginning, Villere said. He added that put the school “in the top 10” of schools feeding Bike & Build.

Although she couldn’t attend her graduation, Hittner said she was still able to connect NU to her new Bike & Build family.

“Once I realized all my friends were together at Northwestern graduating, and I was biking somewhere in upstate New York, I felt a little nostalgic,” she said. “But we biked straight through Northwestern at one point when we stayed in Chicago. We rode near campus and down Lake Shore Drive. I was able to show people where I spent the past four years.”

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