Local teacher hoping to bike across U.S. for good cause

Published 11:45 pm Friday, April 20, 2012



RESERVE — To ride your bicycle to the corner market and back home isn’t anything too uncommon.

To ride it from Maine to California is another thing altogether.

But believe it or not, that’s exactly what’s in the plans this summer for Caelan O’Sullivan, a fourth-grade special education teacher at Fifth Ward Elementary School in Reserve. O’Sullivan’s keen sense of adventure led her to the Bike and Build program, a non-profit organization that organizes cross country cycling trips to benefit the affordable housing cause in the United States.

“I heard about it in college, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said O’Sullivan, 23. “I never had the chance. But I finally summoned up the courage and said, ‘I’m gonna do it.’”

The Bike and Build trip will begin on June 16 and extend to Aug. 26, and riders make stops along the way to build houses and give presentations to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing in the U.S.

“In preparing for this, I realized there’s so much that I didn’t know myself (about the housing cause),” said O’Sullivan. “It made me realize that there are other people just like me who had no idea about some of these things.”

In order to participate, O’Sullivan must raise $4,500 in donations, money that will go toward the communities in which the riders will be working.

O’Sullivan has already raised $1,851 of that total, and she is working toward securing the rest before the June 16 deadline.

She said that she’s reached out to virtually everyone she’s ever met, through Facebook and email, and that many have already been more than willing to help the cause.

“I’m so overwhelmed by the generosity I’ve seen. Donations are still rolling in,” she said.

O’Sullivan said that her experiences as a teacher proved to be a motivator.

“I’ve seen how important it is to have a stable home life, to not live somewhere overcrowded,” she said. “You see the effect it has on children, as a teacher.”

The promise of adventure was another draw.

“You see that Forrest Gump kind of image in your mind,” she said. “It just lassoed me in.”

O’Sullivan is not an experienced cyclist, and her target for the end of her pre-trip training is to ride from her home in New Orleans to Reserve.

But she is no stranger to taking a leap out of her comfort zone. As a teen, she moved to Germany as a high school senior after earning a scholarship, living with a family in the country.

She knew no German at that time; she became fluent in the language before returning to the U.S. to attend school at Hendrix College in Arkansas, where she majored in German and economics. She was then one of 4,500 seniors chosen nationwide to participate in the Teach for America program, which brought her to Reserve.

But the teacher’s summer vacation will yield yet another chance to make a difference.

“It’s a chance to make a direct impact by building houses and raising money for needy, overlooked areas of the country,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope to reach my goal.”

Those interested in donating to her cause can do so by visiting www.bikeandbuild.org and donating to Caelan O’Sullivan’s page. One may also mail a check or money order to Bike & Build, 6109 Ridge Ave., Bldg 2, Philadelphia, PA 19128.