By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Some 50 Canadians biked and drove into Havre Thursday partway through their 1,000-mile mission - to promote Habitat for Humanity and raise money for the Winnipeg affiliate of the organization.
"These are the important parts of our trips, where we meet the people of the community and are able to make more Habitat awareness," said Lorraine Petkau, organizer of the Cycle of Hope bicycling fund-raiser for Winnipeg Habitat for Humanity.
The money raised by their trip will be used to build houses for low-income families.
The bikers collect pledges before they begin their trip - each of the cyclists had to raise at least $2,000 Canadian before they could ride - to spread the word about the organization. The bikers left Fernie, British Columbia, on July 5 and crossed into Montana at the Port of Del Bonita on Wednesday. They will bike into North Dakota, then turn north into Canada. They are scheduled to return to Winnipeg on July 19.
This year's trip marks several landmarks for the Winnipeg affiliate and its Cycle for Hope. It's the 10th anniversary for the fund-raiser, which has raised more than $1 million Canadian in its 10 years. The Winnipeg Habitat for Humanity is building its 100th house this summer.
Not to mention that this year's trip is 1,000 miles.
"It's all these big zeros," said Beverly Watson, one of the cyclists.
Habitat for Humanity is a nondenominational faith-based organization that builds houses for qualified families and sells them to the families at cost. The families are provided mortgages to pay for the houses, and Habitat pays the interest.
Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said Bear Paw and the District IV Human Resources Development Council looked into starting a Havre affiliate about 10 years ago. At that time, she said, the problem was finding the expertise, like electricians, plumbers and carpenters, to help with the work.
"It's a great program. The problem is you have to get people involved," she said. "We could get enough (people) to hang the Sheetrock, but would we do the framing right?"
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who is also director of United Way of Hill County, has similar concerns. He said he has looked at both Habitat for Humanity and a similar program, Labor for Neighbors, for Havre. Both are great programs, he said, and if people showed enough interest and willingness to work in the programs he would support bringing them to Havre.
The idea for Habitat started in Alabama in 1965, when self-made millionaire Millard Fuller, founder and president of Habitat, made some major changes in his life, an article on the organization's Web site said.
As Fuller's wealth grew, his health, integrity and marriage suffered, the site said. In reconciling his marriage, he and his wife, Linda, decided to sell all of their possessions, give their money to the poor, and dedicate their lives to service.
They began volunteering at Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in Georgia. One of the initiatives the Fullers started there was building houses on a no-profit, no-interest basis. The Fullers moved to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, with their four children in 1973 and successfully tested their housing project there.
The Fullers returned to the United States in 1976, and Millard Fuller teamed with several close associates to found Habitat for Humanity International. Since then, affiliates of the organization have built more than 125,000 houses around the world.
Petkau said communities that want to start affiliates get help from the international organization to set them up.
Families must qualify for the houses. They must meet criteria including need, ability to repay the no-interest no-profit loan, and a willingness to work with Habitat for Humanity.
The families are required to donate 500 hours of work, or "sweat equity," to Habitat.
"It's their down payment," Petkau said.
The Cycle of Hope was inspired by two events, Petkau said. One was President Jimmy Carter's coming to Winnipeg in 1993 in his annual Jimmy Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have volunteered a week to build Habitat homes every year since 1984. They helped build 18 homes in Winnipeg that year.
The other event was the arrival of a team of cyclist fund- raisers from Minneapolis.
The average age of the 75 riders from the Minneapolis Habitat affiliate was 56, Petkau added.
"That was kind of the inspiration," she said.
The next year, Petkau, 11 other cyclists and six support vehicles made a fund-raising trip to Eagle Butte, S.D., the next stop for the Jimmy Carter Work Project. They raised $33,000 Canadian for the Winnipeg affiliate.
In 1995, 50 cyclists made a 4,000-mile trip to the Jimmy Carter Work Project in Los Angeles, and raised more than $200,000 Canadian.
The next year, the Jimmy Carter Work Project traveled to Budapest, Hungary, and the Cycle of Hope volunteers decided to stop following him. But the fund-raiser continued.
Watson said the bikers meet wonderful people on the trips. Donations of time, a place to sleep and food by churches, religious groups and service organizations help keep the expenses down. St. Jude's Catholic Church housed the bikers in its Parish Center Thursday night.
The fund raising can involve a variety of forms and challenges. Cyclist Henry Beesley, a member of Rotary International, said he challenged the 52 Rotarians in his club to donate at least $20 each, and he would shave his head in return.
Beesley's head is now shaved, and Rotarians have donated $1,800 Canadian so far.
"And it's still pouring in," he added.
One of the best parts of Cycle of Hope is meeting a family whose house construction will be funded by the trip, called the Cycle of Hope House, Watson said. Construction of this year's house was started before the bicycle trip began, and the riders met the family who will receive it. All 43 cyclists signed their name on a 2-by-4, which will be built into the house.
Watson said the house will be completed before the trip is done, and the cyclists will present the family with the key on their return.
The Habitat program truly makes a difference, Petkau said. Some of the children of the families Habitat has built houses for in Winnipeg are now going to college, she said, helping to break the cycle of poverty.
For more information about Habitat for Humanity, call (800) HABITAT.
On the Net: Habitat for Humanity International: www.habitat.org