After two years of leading the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure as a volunteer, Melissa Merrill is returning to the full-time workforce.
During her two years at the helm of the fundraising and awareness program, she led cross-country summer rides from Savannah, Georgia, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2013 and from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Astoria, Oregon this summer — 3,600-mile ride that just ended on Sunday.
During her tenure, the mechanical engineer saw the Bicycle Adventure eclipse the $1 million mark in all-time fundraising. Now, the Adventure turns its attention to raising its second million to fight poverty housing and will begin that effort with Lydia Huelskamp at the helm for the eighth annual Adventure.
Next year’s summer ride will be the longest yet, a 4,000-mile trek from Southern California to Maine. Huelskamp also will lead the weeklong spring ride down the Natchez Trace Parkway. Merrill said that she is grateful knowing that the Adventure is in good hands.
“Lydia has a really unique set of gifts — she’s smart and organized, she’s a strong cyclist and she’s a ton of fun to be around,” Merrill said Tuesday from the road in Colorado on her return to Fuller Center for Housing headquarters in Americus. “Plus, most importantly, she’s developed a real passion for the Bike Adventure and our mission this summer. I think she’s going to make an awesome leader!”
Huelskamp, 22, graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, California, this year with a degree in Communication Studies. The Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, native was one of 19 cyclists to make the entire 3,600-mile journey across the country this year
“I really enjoyed the ride and that it’s more than just a journey — there’s a purpose behind it,” Huelskamp said Tuesday, also from Colorado in the Fuller Center van. “I didn’t have anything else planned, so it worked out perfectly to be able to do that and go another round cross-country.”
Among Huelskamp’s many favorite moments during the ride was in June when her parents were able to come up from Missouri to work with her and the Bicycle Adventurers during their build day with the Fuller Center of Lake County in Waukegan, Illinois.
“It was really awesome because they were able to see what we’re all about,” she said. “And my mom is hoping to ride a week or so next summer. They are totally supportive of this. They said, ‘We were praying that something would come out of this journey for you, and it looks like God’s taking care of you.’ They’re really supportive and excited for me.”
For Ryan Iafigliola, who founded the Bicycle Adventure in 2008, it is always a relief to know the ride he started and stays involved with is in good hands. He led the first three Adventurers and was succeeded in that role by Allen Slabaugh in 2011-12 and then Merrill.
“To be honest, it takes a rare person to lead this ride,” Iafigliola said. “As if it’s not rare enough to ride your bike across the country, in a leader we also need someone who is incredibly organized, passionate about the mission and a strong people person who is basically willing to do it for free as a volunteer.”
“We’ve been incredibly blessed to find people like that every year so far, like Melissa, who is definitely leaving big shoes to fill. She’s engineered the level of organization to new heights and introduced the ride to probably another 100 riders and countless others. She has been a dedicated Fuller Center supporter since long before her time as trip leader began, and we look forward to having her stay involved in the years ahead — with a little less stress and responsibility on her shoulders!”