Former MVSer trades tools for wheels, raises for Fuller Center

by Hannah Heinzekehr

AMERICUS, Ga. (Mennonite Mission Network) – This summer, using bicycles, water bottles and helmets as their tools, 18 riders will travel from Michigan to Florida to help raise houses. From July 10 to August 16, these bikers, led by former Mennonite Voluntary Service participant Ryan Iafigliola, will travel from city to city, spreading the word about the Fuller Center for Housing and raising money to supplement building projects. The bike ride will also honor Millard Fuller, the founder of both Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing who died unexpectedly after a brief illness in February 2009.

Begun in 2005, the Fuller Center for Housing continues Fuller’s legacy of making decent housing available to all people. The Fuller Center focuses its efforts on helping to provide upkeep and renovations to existing homes. Instead of simply building new homes, they can fit homes with handicap accessible features like ramps and handrails, put on new roofs, and help with a variety of other repairs.

“Millard began to notice that there was a target audience that Habitat couldn’t serve. For example, elderly people who are living in a home but they don’t have the resources for upkeep. Now people can be blessed by receiving repairs and then help send back a gift that can bless someone else,” said Iafigliola.

Iafigliola first got involved with Habitat and Fuller during his time as a student at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He knew he was interested in working alongside Fuller after college, and MVS provided a program that allowed him to serve with the Fuller Center for a year as a volunteer. Mennonite Voluntary Service, one of Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites adults of all ages and backgrounds to spend a one- or two-year term living in community and serving in a variety of locations across the United States.

During his volunteer year, Iafigliola was encouraged to develop his own gifts as a leader and came up with the idea of a bike ride to raise awareness and funds for the Fuller Center. He modeled his idea on walks across the country that Fuller hosted during the 1980s and 1990s.

Last summer, eight riders joined Iafigliola in a coast-to-coast bike ride from San Diego, Calif., to Savannah, Ga., and raised $135,000 for the Fuller Center. This year the goal is to raise $200,000, and Iafigliola is still looking for more riders, for a day or for the entire trip, to help meet this goal.

Last year, one biker, Katherine Stump, found the ride on Facebook, an online social networking site. She was so inspired by the mission of the Fuller Center, that when the bikers rode through Americus, Ga., where the Fuller Center is located, she submitted an application and interviewed for a job. She now serves as the assistant director of communications for the Fuller Center.

“The bike ride changed my whole perspective. I had never considered working for a nonprofit before, but for the first time in my life I felt God calling me to do something. It renewed my faith to see people putting their faith into action,” said Stump.

During the 2009 bike ride, bikers will stay at churches and connect with Fuller Center partners in different cities. On July 12 in South Bend, Ind., Fuller Center board chair and longtime supporter, Leroy Troyer, is organizing a building event where riders will help to renovate a house alongside people from the community. Bikers will also stay at Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend and have a chance to share with church members about their ride. Members of the congregation will also join the bikers for the first day’s journey.

“In our county, we’re working on a program to eliminate substandard housing. The Bible says that with God all things are possible and we’re claiming that. It’s exciting to see young people like Ryan getting involved,” said Troyer.

After completing his year with MVS, Iafigliola continues to work at the Fuller Center as a staff member because of his belief in the program.

“God gives us life so that we can give to others,” said Iafigliola. “This program has a tremendous ability to break down barriers and to build relationships.”

Individuals are invited to join the Fuller Center bikers for any length of time during the ride. For more information about the Fuller Center bike adventure, visit www.fullercenterbiketrip.com. For more information on Mennonite Voluntary Service and other Christian service programs, visit service.mennonitemission.net

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