Student to cycle across country to raise affordable housing awareness

A USF graduate student departs next month on a physically demanding journey in hopes of improving the living conditions of others.

Grace Tidwell, a graduate student studying medicine, embarks on a two-month group cycling trip from North Carolina to California next month in an effort to raise money and awareness for affordable housing.

Bike and Build, a Philadelphia-based organization, planned the trip, Office Manager Molly Jacobs said.

“As much as we’re about providing for affordable housing groups, we’re also about engaging young adults in civic service, and what this does is that it shows them this is how they can directly make an impact on their surroundings,” she said. “It shows them that by their actions and efforts they can directly help the affordable housing crisis.”

Tidwell is the only USF rider in a group of 32 from across the country. The cyclists leave North Carolina on May 13, stopping at community centers, churches and host families’ homes along the way to talk to people about affordable housing issues.

Affordable housing, which costs no more than 30 percent of a family’s income according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website, is less accessible across the country in light of the current economy.

Tidwell said she needed 10 volunteer hours to qualify for the trip, which she accumulated while building homes with Habitat for Humanity.

“This is a cause I really believe in and that definitely keeps me going,” she said. “It’s a cause that everyone can get behind because affordable housing is an issue that could affect anyone, especially with the current state of our economy. The real problem is that minimum wage has not been able to keep up with the growing needs of the economy. Programs like (Bike and Build and Habitat for Humanity) fill in that gap.”

To prepare, Tidwell said she bikes up to 10 miles on the Flatwoods Park trail every day – 60 miles short of what she’ll be expected to bike on an average day of her trip.

In addition to volunteer hours, Tidwell must raise $4,000 toward her stay fees, while the rest will be donated to Bike and Build for other affordable housing initiatives.

She said she’s collected $3,000 from family members and sells Premier Designs jewelry outside of the College of Medicine. The jewelry company donates part of all profits sold on campus to her fund. Tidwell said she will continue until she raises the remaining $1,000.

“It’s a large amount, but I’m partially there,” she said.

She also collects donations through her blog,, which she will update throughout her trip.

While a sophomore at the University of Florida, Tidwell said she first heard of the program from a friend who was in it and it piqued her interest.

“When (my friend) got back, she told me it was an absolutely life-changing, eye-opening experience,” she said. “It seemed like a really great program, and I was really interested in finding ways to help out in the community.”

Though Tidwell said she didn’t consider herself an avid cyclist, her desire to make a difference made biking across the country seem possible.

“I rode my bike to class a lot, but beyond that, I really didn’t (bicycle a lot),” she said. “I was always a runner. I did track in high school, but bicycling was always something I wanted to get better at and more into, so this was a great way for me to also glide into that.”

Tidwell, who was accepted into the program in December, recently bought a new bicycle and will have completed 500 miles of training on it before she leaves.

The trip ends in San Diego on July 21, but Tidwell plans to leave the program before reaching California so she can return in time for medical school courses, which begin July 18.

“I didn’t even know about how important this issue was until I was a part of Bike and Build,” she said. “I hope I can come back and help other people learn about it at USF.”