They come from East and West, North and South.
They are young, and they are part of an older generation and every age group in between.
This group of people have come with a mission in mind, and it’s one of service.
It’s no ordinary group, and it’s no ordinary mission.
Fifteen individuals, including 12 bicyclists, made a stop in Garden City Saturday through Sunday night before departing early Monday morning on a cross-country excursion with the goal of raising thousands of dollars to help build and repair homes across the United States and in countries overseas.
Volunteers, who are either on their maiden voyage across America or some with years of experience, the cyclists are part of the Fuller Center Bike Adventures, aligned with the Fuller Center for Housing, a non-profit organization founded in 2005.
The husband-wife duo of Millard and Linda Fuller, who together had founded the well-known housing project organization, Habitat for Humanity nearly three decades earlier, is making a significant contribution to families who are in need, but also willing to work to make their dreams of home ownership a reality.
Jim McCracken is one of the veteran bikers of the group that started on June 1 at Ocean Beach, Calif., and will continue across America, finishing up in Ocean City, N.J. in mid-August.
While he has ridden on several other shorter routes since 2011, McCracken is making his first cross-country trip.
A native of Lewiston, Idaho, McCracken said he feels a special calling for this service.
“I originally got involved with a group in Montana and biking was the first interest for me,” McCracken said Sunday afternoon while taking a much-welcomed rest at Trinity Lutheran Church, the host church for the group during their 36-hour stop in Garden City. “It caught my attention, and I did a trip with my son where they were building a house and I just fell in love with the group. It’s become a transition from just biking to biking with a purpose. I felt like this was giving me something more and I’ve made lifelong friends.”
California native Stephany Escalante Galindo, who lives in Los Angeles, is making her first cross country trip with The Fuller Center group and is enjoying something that she had never envisioned until recently.
Having earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of Southern California before securing a master’s degree in education, also from USC, Escalante Galindo now teaches middle school science at the New Los Angeles Charter School.
“I used to commute to work on my bike, so I’ve always enjoyed that exercise,” Escalante Galindo said. “She met some other bikers who were knowledgeable about the Fuller group, so she began with a shorter trip to the Grand Canyon from Oceanside, Calif. a few years ago.
That was followed by a bike tour from the state of Washington to Nebraska and then from Seattle to San Diego along the West Coast.
“I grew up in circumstances similar to the families that we are helping build houses for,” Escalante Galindo said. “It’s a chance to give something back. Along the way, the churches that open their doors for us is a reminder for us of the generosity and truly we receive more than we give.”
Carlos Vega hails from Mt. Airy, N.C., and serves as the van driver for the group, hauling supplies, both food and water, bike repair equipment and the clothes and bedding they use on their overnight stops.
“I’m still trying to learn the whole part of bike repairs,” Vega said. “I’m in a transition phase in my life and I was in the process of quitting one job and starting another when I got an email, asking if I was interested in driving the van and helping the group.”
Vega, who had traveled to Nicaragua while in college at North Carolina State University, said this trip has no comparison to the others he’s made.
“Nothing comes close, nothing compares,” he said.
He’s made three other service trips, being involved with digging trenches, building walls and putting in a ditch that served as a water filter.”
It seems like a natural fit for someone with a degree in structural engineering, and it was McCracken who said he was in awe of what Vega was doing.
“One of our cyclists needed to take the last 15 miles of one of our legs off, so they asked Carlos if he’d ride the bike that final distance,” McCracken said. “He did, and then the next day he biked the 70 miles. I’m just amazed and impressed by what he’s done.”
Of the 15 members in the group, 12 are cyclists and of that group, nine will bike the entire 3,750 miles. A parallel group is biking from East to West along the northern tier United States at the same time with 30-plus members of that group.
The Fuller’s, especially Millard, who started Habitat for Humanity in 1976, founded the Fuller Center for Housing in 2005. He set out to expand his missionary vision by returning to to his Koinonia Farm, a cooperative community dedicated to peace and service in rural southwest Georgia.
A new mission statement was then issued, dedicating the Center as a Christ-centered, faith-driven organization witnessing the love of God by providing opportunities for families to have a simple, decent place to live.
By working with volunteers and repaying construction costs on terms they can handle, homeowners are able to regain a sense of basic human dignity.
In 2008, Notre Dame graduate Ryan Iafigliola, inspired by the Fullers, created the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure.
Since then, the event has ridden through 44 states and one Canadian province. They’ve helped physically renovate or repair more than 130 homes, and have raised more than $2 million for families in need of housing all over the world. Combined, more than 1,100 riders have ridden more than 900,000 miles for the mission.
The group stopping in Garden City, completed the fourth of 10 segments (from Santa Fe, N.M.), having traveled Saturday from Holly, Colo. the approximately 71 miles along US Highway 50. Their next segment will see them reach Kansas City, Mo. in about another week.
Homes have been build with the hands of the Fuller volunteers and families in 26 states and 19 foreign countries.
McCracken himself has traveled to India on multiple occasions to be part of the construction projects. Training for the biking, though, took some doing.
“I got to where I was able to go 100 miles in one day with 5,000-feet of climbing,” he said. “I knew then I was ready for the training, but I don’t bike daily, maybe three times a week. The first part of the trip was in the desert and it was 118 degrees. We try to start at first light, and will usually finish around lunch.”
A typical overseas house can be constructed for as little as $4,500, McCracken said, so that’s his goal in the fund-raising aspect of the trip.
The 2018 goals for the organization include raising $400,000, begin 50-plus new church relationships and create 4,000 fans on its Facebook page.
For more information, go online to www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org.