Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on March 25, 2015.
UVM is a place where students take personal interests and turn them into public inspiration and service, said Kailee Brickner-McDonald, director of the Dewey House for Community Engagement.
This summer, senior environmental studies major Alyssa Solomon, along with Lucyanna Labadie and senior Hannah Lees, will cycle from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Vancouver, British Columbia – nearly 4,000 miles – building affordable housing in 10 cities on their journey as part of a program called Bike and Build, according to a press release.
“[Lack of] affordable housing goes hand-in-hand with homelessness, which goes hand- in-hand with the school-to-prison pipeline and to many other systemic issues,” Solomon said. “This is just a part that I think can be a solution, and I really want to contribute to it.”
Bike and Build has raised nearly $5 million for affordable housing efforts in 12 years, according to the Bike and Build website.
For the past few months, Solomon said she has been fundraising in an attempt to raise $4,500 through bake sales, a self-run taxi service and an upcoming benefit concert.
The money that she and her peers will raise will go toward building materials and grants to help fund the organization’s partners, such as Habitat for Humanity, Solomon said.
Her eagerness for such service has been drawn out and amplified through aspects of the UVM community such as the Dewey House, which Solomon said she has been a part of since her first year. Solomon said her inspiration has been the program’s director, Brickner-McDonald.
“I met Alyssa as a first-year student; she already [had] a background and a passion for service and connected it to UVM through her academic and leadership role,” Brickner-McDonald said.
Brickner-McDonald also said the Dewey House contributes to the UVM community by “helping people stitch together their community experience, and providing a container to show them how [their efforts] are shaping their community.” Solomon integrates service into every aspect of her life.
She led a social mission for one of her favorite bands, Dispatch, while touring with them as a sophomore, Brickner-McDonald said. When they performed in Burlington, she connected them with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
She also teaches figure skating and educates children on the environment, two of her other passions, Brickner-McDonald said. “It is in students like Solomon, that personal becomes public at UVM,” Brickner-McDonald said. Solomon said that she is also interested in the affordable housing crisis here in Burlington.
“The healthy average for vacancy rates is 5 percent; in Burlington, there is a 3 percent vacancy rate, so this is a local issue as well,” Solomon said.
It is not just Solomon who is interested in community involvement. Yahaira Escribano, a first-year international and community development major, said that the best results begin when individuals within the community take the initiative. “You know your community the best,” she said.
Solomon said that it is inspiring to see the outpour of generosity that the campus community has shown her. She is over 40 percent of the way to her goal of $4,500.
Solomon’s benefit concert is March 31, and will feature Bison and Weak Signal Broadcast Service, according to the event’s Facebook page.