Arden Stewart, a 2010 graduate of Whitefish Bay High School, said she has been lucky to grow up with secure, comfortable housing, but she knows many Americans lack that privilege.
"I never had to question where the next meal was coming from," Stewart said. "But I know that poverty is a vicious cycle. When there are millions of Americans spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing, it perpetuates that cycle."
So she decided to do something about it. It was her brother who planted the seed of the idea, when he rode 4,000 miles through Africa last year.
"I was jealous with intense wanderlust," Stewart said. "Every day I was thinking, my brother's in Zambia, and I'm in class right now."
After spending three semesters at Cornell College in Iowa, and another at Marquette University, Stewart found Bike and Build, a program that sends bikers across the country to construct affordable housing.
"I felt like, I can pick up a hammer," Stewart said. "It's something that young and active people can do to really make a difference in lives and communities."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as costing less than 30 percent of a family's income. According to HUD, an estimated twelve million renters and homeowners now use more than 50 percent of their annual income for housing.
Stewart's trip, May 17 to Aug. 3, will take her from Jacksonville, Fla. to Monterey, Calif. They will bike about five days a week, ranging from 30 to 100 miles a day, and build houses on their off days with various organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
"It's a really cool way to see a whole bunch of culture of this country that I've never been apart of," Stewart said. "And it's different than a vacation, when you're staying in a church basement and interacting with the locals and building a house for them."
As a cross country runner for Cornell, on top of the long days of biking and building Stewart plans to fit in training runs. But she said more than the physical feat, she is worried about the building part, and preparing by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Milwaukee.
Until she departs, Stewart is living back at home in Whitefish Bay, attending Marquette University, and raising money with a goal of $4,500 to fund construction projects on the trip.
She'll also be stationary-biking around Whitefish Bay soon, with a sign explaining her mission and asking for donations. You can donate directly to Stewart on her fundraising page.