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Ellen Dick is a 20-year-old sculpting major at the University of Washington who likes working with wood and wood materials.

Tuesday, she had the opportunity to transfer those skills to a different kind of project: building a house for a low-income family on Buffalo’s East Side.

“It’s really important to find a way to break out of your shell,” said Dick, who was among about 30 young Bike & Build cyclists who came to town to help Habitat for Humanity-Buffalo build safe, decent, affordable homes.

The Bike & Build cyclists – who range in age from 19 to 25 – are traveling across the country this summer raising funds and helping with the construction of housing projects like the one at 115 Fox St.

“It’s a big help for us, for our city and for our volunteers to see the interest that these young people have for the community and to help raise awareness,” said Ron Talboys, president of Habitat for Humanity-Buffalo.

“They have worked with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations across the country to raise awareness,” Talboys added.

The riders, who are from all over the country, departed Portsmouth, N.H., on June 20 and have biked 616 miles so far.

They still have 3,154 more to go on their way to their final destination – Vancouver, British Columbia. They plan to be there by the end of August.

“It’s a pretty incredible experience,” said Dean Rockwell, a 25-year-old Buffalo native.

Rockwell is participating in the cross-country trek on two wheels before heading off to Boston College in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. in organizational studies

He said the Bike & Build program is important because it “helps establish a sense of community and service in young people.”

The nonprofit organization exposes young adults 18 to 25 (or 28 for leaders) to issues surrounding the affordable housing crisis. The program also provides service opportunities for them.

To be eligible, every cyclist had to raise $4,500 in donations. Agencies like Habitat for Humanity then apply for a Bike & Build grant, “And we as a group decide which organizations get money,” Rockwell said.

Since the annual cycling tour started in 2002, Bike & Build has contributed more than $4 million to housing groups like Habitat for Humanity-Buffalo.

Rockwell, who graduated from Nichols School, decided to participate for the first time this year because it was an opportunity to raise money for an important cause while seeing the country by bike.

“I think it’s really important to have that sense of community early,” he said.

In addition to 115 Fox St., the young volunteers worked on the house next door Tuesday and another one nearby on Grey Street.

Their jobs included applying Styrofoam insulation on the side of the houses, as well as doing some landscaping and weatherproofing.

“I love to do something like this. It’s a nice change. I love getting dirty,” said 19-year old Ben Parker from Massachusetts.

For the rest of the week, the group will cycle to Westfield, and then off to Ohio to Ashtabula, Avon Lake and Bowling Green, according to the tour schedule.

And as they make their way to Vancouver, Parker remembers how fortunate he was to have grown up in a nice house in Massachusetts, he said. It’s an experience he wants to make possible for others.

“I could not even imagine not growing up in a house,” Parker said. “I want to give someone else a good life like I had.”

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com