Habitat for Humanity, the house people, have been in Brainerd for years. Since 1990 the group has built over 40 homes in the lakes area, and this month, Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity plays host to riders in the 11th Habitat for Humanity 500 Mile Bike Ride.
The bike ride, which starts in Duluth on Sunday, will wind through Brainerd, Moose Lake, Walker, Grand Rapids, Virginia and Two Harbors before the ride wraps up back in Duluth after one week.
The beginning of the ride is in conjunction with the wall raising for the 1,000th house built by Habitat for Humanity in Minnesota. The ride is a fundraising event that last year raised $250,000 for building new houses in the state.
This is the Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity's third time hosting the bike tour in five years, said Lakes Area affiliate executive director Kevin Pelkey, who has been with Habitat for Humanity for five and a half years.
"This is the only Habitat ride I'm aware of this extent in the United States," said Pelkey. "It's pretty cool to think that 129 people are willing to ride 500 miles just to raise awareness for Habitat and affordable housing, and to raise money."
Desiree Grube, an AmeriCorps VISTA with Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity, will be riding in the event, along with fellow Habitat volunteer Roberta Anderson, a recent graduate of BHS. The group will have an overnight stay at Brainerd High School on Monday.
"Its going to be awesome to spend that much time with other people who care that much about Habitat," said Grube. Both Grube and Anderson said they did not bike much before they decided to take part in the ride. Each rider has to raise a minimum of $750 to participate in the ride.
Grube said that to prepare for the ride, she received advice from other riders, and has been riding about 100 miles a week for the last several weeks. She said this ride will be more riding in a week than she is accustomed to, but she is hoping to do well.
For Grube, deciding to devote two years of her life volunteering with Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity was an easy decision. She had friends who had worked with Habitat for Humanity, and she had friends who were from the Brainerd area. When an opening was posted, Grube took the chance.
Anderson started working at the Lakes Area affiliate because of a community service class she took the second semester of her senior year at BHS. She has decided to stay on at Habitat for Humanity, continuing to volunteer.
Taking part in the bike ride was an easy choice, said Grube. "It's a good way to advocate for affordable housing. It's a good way to raise money," said Grube, who is from North Dakota, but attended the University of Georgia.
Habitat for Humanity is a "nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry," according to its Web site.
The organization was founded by Millard Fuller in 1976, along with his wife Linda. Fuller created the ministry based on three foundational concepts: Putting faith into action, what the organization calls the economics of Jesus, and the theology of the hammer.
The economics of Jesus refers to the notion that when a person gives of their time and resources, without seeking personal gain, then God magnifies the efforts and the results. Habitat for Humanity measures what it calls "sweat equity," the amount of time put in manual labor by volunteers and recipient families. Pelkey said that recipient families of the Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity put in a minimum of 300 hours of sweat equity.
The theology of the hammer refers to the concept of all the volunteers and families working together despite theological or even religious differences, a sort of bridging of the divide, so to speak.
"We are a Christian organization, and based on Christian values, but we don't exclude anybody, both in the application process or in volunteers who want to help," said Grube.
Pelkey said the entire process, from when a family applies for housing to when a house is finished and the family signs mortgage papers, can vary depending on the situation, but the average is 18-24 months total.
Families approved by the board of directors must buy the house, but it is sold at a lower price than what houses generally go for.
"We do not give these houses away," said Pelkey. "We sell them."
The biggest problem for the affiliate, and the biggest cause of a long wait, is lack of land, said Pelkey.
"We have more families to serve than we have land available," said Pelkey, who worked for the Boy Scouts of America before coming to Habitat for Humanity.
"The pressure for land is very high. I cannot afford to buy land at the $16,000 to $50,000 range that lots are selling for here. So a lot of times we're at the mercy of donations."
Pelkey said the affiliate currently has three families that have been approved for housing but are still waiting for available land to build.
The affiliate started using one basic design this year for all houses it builds, which can be modified for more rooms if needed, and that the designs were donated by Nor-Son Inc. Additionally, materials are bought for cheaper through area companies and services are acquired for less through subcontractors in the area.
Habitat for Humanity does not charge interest on mortgages and there is no profit made on mortgages either, which are serviced by Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union, said Pelkey.
All in all, a family's mortgage for a house from Habitat for Humanity usually comes out to about $300 a month, including taxes and insurance.
Before the bikers set out Sunday morning, there will be a ceremony to raise the wall on the 1000th home in Minnesota to be built by Habitat for Humanity. Grube said the plan is that the house will be raised by the time the riders return.
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