Sonja Jones was on a stretch of highway on the Oklahoma-Texas border a few weeks ago. Riding an average of 80 miles a day on a trip from Jacksonville, Fla., she was tired and thirsty in the summer heat. Jones had stopped to wait for the supply van to arrive and provide water for her and her two riding partners, David Mabe and Mark Menesses ’11. It was then that a passing stranger stopped, saw the riders’ needs and provided three bottles of water.
“I have come to feel so much more fortunate for what I do have,” Jones says of her summer trip, which has taken her from Florida to Monterey, Calif., over the last four months. “It’s those random acts of kindness. The small things.”
Consider the bottled water a sort of reciprocity paid back to Jones, Mabe and Menesses, three NC State students and Caldwell Fellows who committed to participate in the ride for Bike & Build, a nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable housing for those in need.
The organization also aims to inspire young adults into a lifetime of service, so every summer it recruits young people to pedal across country in teams of around 30. They stop in about 15 U.S. cities for a day or two along the way to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. The team including the three NC State students worked on projects in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Dallas.
Jones says the teams traveled a total of eight routes across the U.S. this summer and hope to donate more than $500,000 this year. Jones, Mabe and Menesses were each required to raise $4,000 to participate in the trip. Their team gave $100 donations for housing projects of their hosts’ choices (they spent their nights in churches and community centers).
The riders also reviewed grant proposals and awarded money to a housing project of their own choice. Some of their money went to Habitat for Humanity, which provided a van stored with water, granola bars, vegetables and supplies to travel with the team along the way.
“I mostly ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Jones says.
For Jones, it was life-changing experience, from biking in Zion National Park to touching the lives of those in need. She even had her bike stolen in Delano, Calif., with only four days left on her trip. But an NC State alum living in San Francisco heard about it, drove four hours and gave her a bike to use for the duration of her travel.
“His generosity was totally unexpected,” she says. “Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the final days of my trip. It makes me thankful and proud to be part of the Wolfpack family.”
The Caldwell Fellows program is an intensive leadership-development scholarship program that was created by the Alumni Association to honor the legacy of Chancellor John T. Caldwell.