Cycle of grace

By Rachel Parsons, Saturday, Jul 25, 2009  
The Winchester Sun

In just five weeks, 16 Fuller Center volunteers will bike 1,300 miles across the United States, from Benton Harbor, Mich., to Tallahassee, Fla., hoping to change eight communities for the better along the way.

“I love traveling, I love new adventures, and I want to do something useful while I’m traveling,” said Melissa Merrill, a student at the University of Akron who is spending her summer vacation on the Fuller trip.

That something useful includes construction work on two homes in Winchester, Arthur Christopher’s residence at 347 Hill St. and Ernie Knowles’ residence at 44 Oliver St. The group of cyclists will be making stops at towns throughout the country that have Fuller Center affiliates in them, assisting with ongoing construction projects, or completing minor repairs.

Riders will bike an average of 60 miles between stops and stay in each town for two or three days. The volunteers rode into Winchester on Thursday after completing projects in Springfield, Ky. Lodging is provided by Central Baptist Church and various churches and organizations are providing the crew with meals during their stay.

“It’s been incredible. There are so many positive things we’ve experienced. We’ve gone to so many churches and seen so many different ways people live their lives. Getting to work on these houses is such a blessing,” Merrill said.

Merrill spent the day Friday at Arthur Christopher’s house working on the front porch. Lisa Corsi, from Long Branch, N.J., is on her second Fuller Center trip. After working as a translator for the center in El Salvador, she decided to try out the bike trip.

“I thought it was a good adventure. I’m really into that kind of thing,” Corsi said. “It’s nice to meet kids the same age from across the country.”

Michael Tiemeyer, a graduate student at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., described the trip as “a blast” and spoke highly of all the people that have supported the group throughout the trip, now in its second week. “My favorite place is the one we’re in right now. Everywhere we go, people find new ways to be nice to us,” Tiemeyer said.

According to a press release, the Fuller Center for Housing is “a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide. By forming partnerships with local organizations, the Fuller Center provides the structure, guidance and support that communities need to build and repair homes for the impoverished among them.”

Previous construction experience is not necessary, though many of the volunteers have participated in Habitat for Humanity and Fuller Center projects in the past. Local contractors and construction workers are present at each site to share expertise and oversee all work.

Bo Lawson, an employee of Jim Lawson Construction in Winchester, assisted at the Hill Street site, and Rich Butcher, former contractor and George Rogers Clark High School industrial arts teacher, led volunteers at the Oliver Street site.

The volunteers plan to end their trip Aug. 17 when they ride into Tallahassee, Fla. Friday was the two-week mark, and volunteers still have four sites to go. Riders leave for Berea today.

Less than half-way through the trip, group members say they have developed great camaraderie and are learning new things daily. “We started out doing this thinking it would be a fun bicycle adventure,” said volunteer Krystal Goodwin, of Belleville, Ill. “(But) doing good in the community, that’s really been the payback.”

Goodwin said the trip has inspired her to be more active in her community once she gets home, and to encourage her friends and family neighbors to get involved as well. “We’re doing a simple thing, but it has a huge impact because it’s their home,” Goodwin said. “Whenever we get to meet the families we work for, that’s amazing.”

Goodwin’s definition of community has changed a little bit, too, over the past two weeks, thanks to the relationships formed with other volunteers and people encountered along the way. “We didn’t know each other, and we don’t know these people, but we’re neighbors.”

Copyright: The Winchester Sun 2009

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