Cross-country cyclists stopped here to repair homes for low-income Portagers

Volunteers, including Dan Hepp (right), from the Fuller Center bicycled into Portage County this month to help low-income homeowners with repairs. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

After pedaling more than 2,500 miles, cyclists participating in the Fuller Center Bike Adventure’s Seaside to Sebago tour pedaled into Aurora on July 8 to help low-income Portage County residents with home-repair projects.

Aurora was the seventh stop on their 3,900-mile ride to carry out home-improvement projects from coast to coast, a journey which began in Seaside, Oregon, on May 20 and is expected to end in Portland, Maine, on July 31. 

Their 10-week tour includes nine stops along the group’s route through every northernmost continental U.S. state before reaching its final destination in Maine, where the riders will dip their tires in the Atlantic Ocean. They had previously done the same in the Pacific Ocean prior to their departure in Oregon, a tradition often carried out by cyclists who ride from coast to coast.

Since getting underway in Oregon, riders have made their way through Montana’s Glacier National Park all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan prior to arriving in Aurora. Ultimately, they will have seen all five of the Great Lakes after reaching Lake Ontario in the Niagara Falls region of New York State.

Group photo at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora after the gumbo dinner sponsored by Aurora Knights of Columbus, the cyclists last supper before their departure to Rochester, New York. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure is a program sponsored by the Fuller Center for Housing, an international Christian nonprofit based in Georgia. 

The Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Portage County, founded in Aurora in 2013 by the late Walter Chapman, organized six projects for the volunteers to carry out July 9 at homes in Aurora, Mantua and Ravenna. The cyclists’ weekend stop in Portage County proved to be a success, with many homeowners expressing gratitude for the services provided by the Fuller Center volunteers.

During their stay in Aurora, the cyclists were housed at Silver Creek Church as well as at a Fuller Center board member’s home. Meals were provided by Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Silver Creek Church, The Church in Aurora, Anna Maria Senior Living, and Resource Materials and Handling.

On Sunday, July 10, a rest day for the cyclists, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora hosted a gumbo dinner for the volunteers, sponsored by the Aurora Knights of Columbus. It was the cyclists’ last supper on their Aurora stop before departing July 11 for Sharon, Pennsylvania, for more home-repair projects, then on to Rochester, New York, from there.

Where laws allow, the Fuller Center has been known to build homes from the ground up in certain locations around the U.S. and the world. But in Portage County, the projects were home repairs of almost any kind.

“We will fix someone’s plumbing issue or repair a floor that is rotted through, fix a foundation,” said Bob Chapdelaine, a board member with the Fuller Center’s Portage County chapter. “Whatever we can do: replace water heaters, but then sometimes people just need a gutter cleaned. They have to be a homeowner, and they have to be low-income. They find us either through word of mouth or they know someone that we’ve also helped, so they give us a call and we assess them.”

Volunteers for the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure generally are retired seniors from all over the country who are intrigued by the prospect of cross-country bicycling and are interested in lending a hand to low-income homeowners.

Dan Hepp of Springfield, Ohio, has been doing the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure for a decade and is a volunteer with the 2022 Seaside to Sebago Adventure that rolled into Aurora.

“My interest was purely for a bicycle ride, and that was 10 years ago,” Hepp said. “I rode that Natchez Trace [Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure’s Natchez Trace ride], which starts in Nashville and goes down to the Mississippi River. On that ride, they had what was called a ‘build day,’ and we had one in Tupelo, Mississippi, at that time. I just fell in love with the ministry aspect of the ride.”

The Fuller Center for Housing offers five adventure tours: Tour de Florida, Gulf Coast, Seaside to Sebago, Underground Railroad and Natchez Trail. Like Hepp, many of the cyclists have fond memories of past Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure tours.

The Fuller Center Underground Railroad tour is regarded by many volunteers as a memorable journey with exciting detours. It begins in Slidell, Louisiana, and ends in Cleveland, Ohio, a city that was code-named “Hope” because it marked the last stop before the escaped slaves reached their final destination in Canada.

Suzanne Stack of Yuma, Arizona, and Rhonda Wynn of Burton, Ohio, were among the bicyclists who took part in the Portage County home repairs. Prior to this trip, they participated in the Underground Railroad tour that began in May.

It was an eye-opening experience, they said.

“I liked the Mississippi Delta,” Stack said. “We got to help people that were really poor. We were actually constructing jigs and walls for a house. We poured concrete, we made walls. Fuller Center says that they make decent houses for decent people, and that’s what it was: for a mom and a kid. It was just a little house — I think it was like 900 square feet or something like that.”

Joe Sontich, a board member with the Fuller Center’s Portage County chapter, said finding volunteers to carry out the organization’s endeavors isn’t much of a concern. However, the Portage County branch of the Fuller Center does face the challenge of finding eligible homeowners for projects.

If interested in volunteering or donating with the Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Portage County, or to see if you are an eligible, low-income homeowner who qualifies for home repairs, visit the organization’s website at https://fcportage.org/ for more information.

Jeremy Brown
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