Fuller Center Bike Adventure provides housing

The volunteer cyclists make minor external repairs, like painting, on a house in need on Scarborough Avenue June 18-19.

By Natalie Anderson, reporter@natchitochestimes.com

The volunteer cyclists sport their Bike Adventure shirts, displaying a map of their route and purpose for the cross-country ride.

Nearly 25 bicyclists pedaled their way from Shreveport to Natchitoches for a home repair on Scarborough Avenue June 17-20 as part of a volunteer Bike Adventure sponsored by the Fuller Center for Housing. The trek was a leg of a 3,600-mile, nine-week, cross-country route starting in San Francisco, Calif. June 2 and ending in Savannah, Ga. Aug. 5.

Approximately 25 bicyclists are riding through 12 states and stopping in nine cities along the way, riding an average of 75 miles per day with rest stops every 20 miles. Bikers can choose times and cities in which to participate. Riding the whole trip is not a requirement.

In addition to the ride, bicyclists are raising money based on how many miles they anticipate to travel. Each bicyclist receives guidance from the Fuller Center on how to fundraise if they do not have experience. Volunteers can choose to donate their money to a specific project or to the Fuller Center’s general fund.

Bike Adventure Trip Leader Henry Downes planned the route and is actively engaging in the ride. Downes said he discovered the Fuller Center when his roommate from the University of Alabama became involved with the summer ride after they graduated in 2015. Downes said he decided to ride a route to support him. After his experience, he said he committed to the full summer ride in 2016, which started in Seattle, Wash., and ended in Washington, D.C.

“Within two weeks of doing the ride, it was just in my blood, I loved it,” he said. “I love the mission, I love the people, I love meeting the churches and the faith-based background and also traveling.”

Downes decided to drop out of graduate school and has been part of the Fuller Center full-time since Aug. 2016. He now lives in Americus, Ga., where the headquarters is located. He is responsible for coordinating the rides and routes, recruiting support interns, setting up build days, obtaining sponsorships, communicating with the riders and churches and organizing fundraisers. He does have plans, however, to leave the Fuller Center and pursue another job after the current cross-country ride.

“This route has had something for everyone,” Downes said. “To me, this is the best way to travel across the country. Even in a car, you lose some of the connection with nature. You see things you would probably just skip over if you were in a car.”

Downes said the Fuller Center follows the Partnership Housing Model, where the people are looked at as partners with the Fuller Center in home ownership. Those receiving new homes can become homeowners by making payments on their no-interest, subsidized, no-profit loans, based on their income. He said the money received from loan payments is put back into funding for new projects by the Fuller Center.

“A simple, decent place to live is really like the building block for a lot of these families, especially internationally,” he said. “For these families, if they don’t have a safe place to live, a decent house, statistically their health outcomes are worse, their kids’ education outcomes are worse, their communities are violent, the families aren’t as strong. Housing touches everything.”

Louisiana has seven Fuller Center locations: Hammond, Livingston Parish, Natchitoches, New Iberia, Shreveport, Lake Providence and Webster Parish. The Natchitoches Fuller Center was established in 1994 as Habitat for Humanity but converted to the Fuller Center for Housing in 2010. The bikers’ stop in the city was a result of a fall-through in their originally scheduled work site in Minden. Natchitoches Fuller Center for Housing President Jim Roberts said he received short notice of their arrival, so there were not many projects available. During their time in Natchitoches, the volunteers helped sand and paint the house on Scarborough Avenue, along with some other minor external repairs and beautification. The extra day in town was enough to allow them to give the home a second coat of paint before leaving.

In the short notice, however, Roberts arranged their stay at First Baptist Church and provided them food. Portable showers were donated by District 8 Baptist Association, a group on its way back from south Louisiana, where the showers were being used for flood relief efforts.

One couple from Florida in their 40s, Mike and Karen Powers, said they found the Fuller Center and its summer bike ride online and liked the idea of helping people while doing something fun. Since they were first-time riders and intend to ride the entire route, the couple said they followed the recommended 10-week training schedule to prepare for the cross-country route. They said the plan allowed them to work their way up to riding 100 miles.

“We have had a ton of support on the ride,” Karen said. “We have learned so much and have definitely improved as riders. It really does show you that anyone can do this.”

The couple said the biggest challenge during the ride so far has been the differing climates.

“We’re from Florida, so we’re used to this weather, but we were not at all prepared for the mountains,” Karen said. “That was something we had no idea we were in for.”

Mike said he appreciates when the owners of the homes help them with the repairs and builds because it allows them the chance to connect. Mike and Karen said they met the owner of the house being repaired in Natchitoches, who had intentions of fixing the house for a while.

“It was amazing [to see the transformation] in just a couple hours,” she said. “The house looks completely different now than it did when we got there. It was cool to see the neighbors coming out and looking because I think it’s definitely neighborhood improvement. It helps everyone in the neighborhood.”

The Fuller Center for Housing was launched in 2005 by Millard and Linda Fuller, who co-founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976. Following a similar concept, the Fuller Center is an international, faith-based, nonprofit, grassroots organization with a mission to end poverty housing worldwide by repairing and building houses for families in need.

Now in its 10th year, the Bike Adventure is a ministry of the Fuller Center intended to increase fundraising, awareness and house building. Bicyclists from all over the country are welcome to participate, regardless of race, gender, age or religion. The only requirement is that all volunteers must be able to ride their bikes at least 12 MPH. While youth involvement was encouraged at the start of the Bike Adventure, most riders are middle-aged or older because they are able to dedicate the time needed to participate.

Fall, spring and summer routes are specifically planned based on locations in need of housing repairs and builds determined by Fuller Center Covenant Partners. The Covenant Partners are responsible for determining which applicants are accepted and arranging food and churches where the riders can stay during their journey.

Roberts said application acceptance usually is awarded to those who fall in at least the 30 percent median income level, do not qualify for low-income housing assistance, do not qualify for a regular mortgage and can assist the Fuller Center in some way, especially when building the home.

Roberts said the Natchitoches Fuller Center is funded by private donations with no government assistance. He said he anticipates a new house-building project in October.

“It’s very gratifying to be able to help somebody get into a home that wouldn’t have normally been able to afford it,” he said. “Nice, safe, adequate housing.”

Two volunteers cycle into Natchitoches June 17 on Texas Street as part of the Bike Adventure mission of The Fuller Center for Housing.