A GROUP of 32 people from Winnipeg cycled 1,600 kilometres in 13 days and raised enough money to build a house for a family they've only just met.
The Habitat for Humanity Cycle of Hope (COH) riders returned from their round trip to Omaha, Neb., Saturday afternoon, arriving at the home's build site on Nairn Avenue with a Winnipeg police escort and to an exuberant greeting from a crowd of about 100 family, friends and volunteer builders.
Work on the house was briefly suspended to welcome back the cyclists, who raised $171,000 to cover the building costs for the home.
The family purchasing the home, a couple with four children who moved to Winnipeg from Libya in 2008, was among the greeters and was able to meet and thank the riders.
"We are so excited and happy, and we thank everyone so much," said Mohamed, whose last name was not given for security reasons. He and his wife, Eiman, daughters Ranin, 10, and Rawan, 6, and sons Rami, 8, and Rahaf, 16 months, hope to be able to move into their new home sometime in November. They are currently living at a Manitoba Housing complex.
"Our children are saying, 'I will have a room for myself!' and 'We have a new house!' It's very exciting," said Mohamed, who is working 450 hours on the home.
Habitat homes are purchased by families who apply and are accepted based on income with no down payment, no interest and their mortgage payments set based on their ability to pay.
"This was such a great group of cyclists who all believe in Habitat for Humanity, and we know that through the tough winds and the hills, we're riding to give a family the opportunity to have a home," Derrick Saedal, 58, a City of Winnipeg employee.
Dr. Malcolm Doupe, the energetic organizing committee chairman and a COH cyclist, handed the keys to the family and gave them an emotional wish to "turn bricks and mortar into a home."
"For everyone on the trip who talked a lot about making a difference: We'll all come by this house and some point and say, 'I helped to do that.' Every dollar that we fundraised goes right to the house," said Doupe, a professor at the University of Manitoba's faculty of medicine and a research scientist with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.
Doupe was one of four local doctors who participated in the COH ride. "The chance to leave a mark on someone else's life is absolutely wonderful."
On the return trip, Doupe said the cyclists encountered wind, rain, waited out a tornado watch in a small Nebraska town in the shelters of local businesses, and came face-to-face with a bison on a road in South Dakota.
This was the 21st running of the Cycle of Hope, which has raised more than $2.5 million for Habitat for Humanity Manitoba, a non-profit organization. It has built homes for more than 275 families since 1987.