Fifteen cyclists consisting of current residents, alumni and supporters of the Paul Anderson Youth Home left the home Thursday afternoon to bike 560 miles through six Georgia cities, with Statesboro being the first stop Thursday evening.
Statesboro First United Methodist Church hosted the boys after their day’s ride, feeding them a home-cooked meal and providing a place for them to sleep before biking away on Friday. Before stopping at the church, Georgia Southern University’s Recreation Activity Center offered them a place to shower and get refreshed after the daylong ride from Vidalia.
They were scheduled to stop in Augusta on Friday night and reach Athens by tonight. The cyclists plan to stop in Jonesboro on Sunday night and Macon on Monday night before returning to Vidalia on Tuesday.
The founder of the youth home, Paul Anderson, an Olympic legend and “World’s Strongest Man,” cycled from Vidalia to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1961 to raise money and awareness of the mission he planned to launch. This is the ninth year the home is performing the cycling event in his honor to raise money for the boys’ home and to bring about awareness of the startling statistics of troubled boys in the nation.
Drew Read, the chief operating officer of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, said: “Thirty-six thousand juveniles are arrested every week. But change starts with one. If you impact one life, you impact a family. And if you impact a family, you impact a community.
“Our desire is to see the boys reach their potential as the next generation of husbands, fathers, workers, teachers and coaches.”
Matthew Hendley, the director of advancement for the Paul Anderson Youth Home, added: “We’re after life transformation; long-term change. Paul Anderson Youth Home is unique in that we offer help in a loving, family environment, with tough-love and Christian, biblical principles.”
The Paul Anderson Youth Home is a private entity with no state or federal funding. The home has provided a sanctuary for more than 1,200 troubled young men, ages 16 to 20, during its 53-year history and was founded as an alternative to juvenile correctional facilities.
A typical program lasts about 18 months and helps young men overcome addiction and unhealthy lifestyle patterns by placing emphasis on physical work and play, rigorous academics and restored relationships with God, their families and society.
For one of the cyclists, the first stop on the weeklong bike ride meant coming home. Jesse, a young man whose home was Statesboro before he joined the Paul Anderson Youth Home, has been a resident for 14 months. Only first names are given for current residents.
Jesse, 18, was arrested six times and spent time in a youth detention center twice before going to the Paul Anderson Youth Home.
“Weed, cigarettes, drinking, drugs — you name it,” Jesse said of his choices. “I had a good home. I just made bad choices.”
Jesse said a turning point in his life came after his first time spent in a YDC during a stint when he was on the run. Although he knew he’d broken his probation and a warrant for his arrest was issued, he remained at a friend’s house, continuing to drink and use drugs. A relative of his friend’s mother also was staying at the house.
“I watched him, sleeping on the couch, working from sunup until sundown, using pills and drinking. He was in his mid-50s, maybe,” Jesse said. “I thought about my family, a good family, living in a nice home with good jobs — and it just hit me. I looked at him, working from sunup till sundown to buy vodka and sleep on a couch, and thought, ‘That’s me in the future.’
“I knew I had to do something,” Jesse continued. “I had to change. Instead of wanting a life of things that would only take me down, I wanted things that would build me up. One of the biggest things about this program is that it allowed me to think about where my life was going and set my life on track to where I want to go; to make me an asset to society and not a liability.”
Jesse said he chose to do the bike ride for the first time this year because it gives him an opportunity to give back to a place that has given him and his family so much.
“I haven’t gotten it all figured out,” he said, “but I’m on my way. I used to make my own decisions. Now I try to step back and listen to God and see what he has planned for my life.”
Part of that way, Jesse hopes, is to become a stock broker.