Newsmakers you should know: Two Pittsburgh women to bike 3,949 miles for charity

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On Saturday in Providence, R.I., Arielle Parris and Avry Martinson, both of the West End, will take the first pedal strokes of a 3,949-mile journey to Seattle, Wash., in the name of charity.

The friends are undertaking this daunting feat to raise money and awareness for Bike and Build, a nonprofit organization that coordinates cross-country bicycle trips that benefit affordable housing groups.

Upon learning about the organization, Ms. Parris said she was fascinated at the thought of a group of people biking across the country and building houses along the way. Ms. Martinson said she, too, was drawn to the idea of going on an adventure for a good cause.

The two have a long history of volunteering. They met while serving in AmeriCorps, a federal government program through which its members' work ranges from public education to environmental cleanup.

They also share a personal interest in affordable housing and consider it a cause near and dear to their hearts.

Ms. Martinson grew up in the Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh in a house she described as unfinished. She described her family as poor and said their lack of decent, affordable housing was a contributing factor in the death of her father, who took his own life after facing the threat of losing his home.

"Housing is kind of a human right and everyone should have reasonable and appropriate housing," she said. "When I saw an opportunity to get involved in something like that, I thought it would be a good way to honor him and make a difference if I can."

A service trip to Vietnam in high school is what ignited Ms. Parris' interest in the cause. She and a small group of students helped build three houses for widows of the war. She described the experience of handing over the completed homes to the women and their families as intense.

"These widows were just weeping with their kids," she said. "It definitely made a lasting impression on me that made me not only want to continue with affordable housing but just generally to do service."

Ms. Parris and Ms. Martinson will be riding approximately 70 miles a day for 70 days with a few breaks in between to work on construction sites and give town-hall style presentations to the various cities they pass through.

They each raised $4,500 -- the majority of which will be donated to youth-led affordable housing projects across the country -- and fulfilled a volunteer requirement of at least 10 hours of sweat equity helping on a construction site with a local affordable housing group.

In preparation for their ride, the two were required to complete 500 miles of training, including at least one 65-mile ride. The training proved difficult at first for Ms. Parris, who described herself as a "read a book in bed" type of person. However, she said she is ready to take on the challenge.

As an incentive for their participation, Bike and Build provided them with new bicycles that they will be allowed to keep at the end of the trip.

"They're amazing," Ms. Parris said. "We're really excited about that."

Despite the grueling schedule, Ms. Martinson said failure is not an option.

"There is no room for doubt. I don't think you can go in to something like this thinking, well, I might not make it," she said. "It's kind of get there or die trying. You have to have it in your mind that you're going to make it; otherwise you should just buy your plane ticket or not start."

It's a sentiment Ms. Parris said she shares along with excitement for the adventure that awaits them.

"It's going to be great," Ms. Parris said. "I can only imagine how much more of the countryside and just interacting with people that we're going to get to experience. I can't imagine a better way to meet everyone along the way."

For more information on Bike and Build, visit To view Ms. Parris' and Ms. Martinson's blog, visit

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Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:


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