Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

July 11, 2013

Bike riders pedal for the cause

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat

bporterfield@pvdemocrat.com — A stop in Pauls Valley was just one of many for a group of bicycle riders on a quest to raise awareness and money for a cause they believe in enough to take a difficult cross country trek.

Using their hard work to do the talking, bike riders taking part in what’s called the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure made PV one of their recent stops on a trip taking them all the way up to Canada.

Each rider considers this a mission as they represent the Fuller Center in Georgia, which is a non-profit housing ministry that works to help wherever it can with projects that provide more affordable housing for those in need.

The bike tour got started in early June in Savannah, Ga., which is not far from the Fuller Center.

With the ultimate destination being Vancouver, Canada, a recent stage of the trip was going from Louisiana to Oklahoma City when the group rode into Pauls Valley and a place they could briefly call home before pushing on again the next day.

While here the group was welcomed by Pauls Valley’s First United Methodist Church.

One of those committed to the cause is tour leader Melissa Merrill.

While still wearing her riding gear and minutes after storing away her trusty bike, Merrill explained working to help a good cause is something she’s always wanted to do.

Merrill is a former engineer who gave up her profession to volunteer for the Fuller Center.

“I knew all along I would do something I could put my heart into,” Merrill said after arriving at the PV church. “Now I volunteer all my time with the Fuller Center.

“We do a lot of projects that involve building housing,” she said.

“We have housing projects in 60 cities in the U.S. I spend most of my time arranging for mission trips to our project sites.”

The group stopped in Pauls Valley on its way to Oklahoma City, which is the site of one of the center’s many building projects.

The 3,700-mile bicycle tour is the center’s single biggest fundraiser. It’s generated more than $750,000 in the past five years for what they call the fight against poverty housing around the world.

“Each rider collects money for the cause,” Merrill said. “It’s amazing at how creative the different riders get in raising money.

“Each rider raises money and along the way people donate to this. At times we’re surprised at how much people help.”

Typically riders will go around 75 or 80 miles a day before stopping to clean up and stay the night at a church. Early the next morning it all starts again as they grab their bikes and hit the road.

“So far it’s been hot, tough, a lot of people struggling with the heat and humidity,” Merrill added.

“We’re hoping the humidity will start to go down as we keep going north.”

From Oklahoma the bike tour will wind its way through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington and then to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

The Fuller Center for Housing was founded in 2005 by Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller and his wife Linda as a continuation of the affordable housing ministry they started 40 years ago.