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Cyclists pedal to help young mens home
Stop in Gainesville part of a 500 mile ride
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Paul Anderson Youth Home bike ride participant Cliff G. leads a group of riders Monday along Browns Bridge Road. - photo by Tom Reed

Paul Anderson Cycling Challenge
Follow the cyclists’ route and learn more about the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

Eight men cycled into River Forks Park on Keith Bridge Road in Gainesville on Monday afternoon, hoping to make a difference.

Teens and leaders from the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia take a 500-mile trek each year to help young men between the ages of 16 and 21.

“About 90,000 juveniles are arrested every night, and more than 2 million are locked up each year in the nation,” said Drew Read, chief operating officer of the youth home that offers a Christian alternative to juvenile and adult correctional facilities.

“We give that alternative to incarceration and are a private facility instead of state-funded,” said Read, who has worked with the youth home for more than 15 years. “We give them hope, we give them a chance and have an accredited high school on campus.”

The ride started Friday in Atlanta and passed through Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sunday. The guys pitched their tents in Gainesville Monday night, plan to speak to a men’s youth group in town this morning and head to Rutledge and Macon before landing back in Vidalia on Thursday.

“There are 16 of us who live in the home, and some of us were picked for the cycling challenge based on our behavior and being the oldest in the home,” said Jake S., 17, of Madison. The group asked that last names not be used for the boys in the home.

“We’re learning communication on the side of the road,” Jake S. said. “There’s so much to look out for, especially each other. Something in the road may not hurt your bike, but it could hurt the guy behind you.”

Paul Anderson, a 1956 Olympic gold medalist, started the youth home in 1961. The program has aided in the lives of more than 1,000 adolescents and their families.

“The trip is all mental. It’s a mind game, and you have thoughts racing through your head,” said Matt G., 19, of Memphis, Tenn. “You think about how you want to hurry up and get to the next place, but you have to enjoy the moment.”

The ride helps encourage the young men physically, emotionally, socially and spirituality, and it’s used as a fundraiser for the youth home.

People can sponsor the riders and also follow the bikers’ route and sign up to win a free bike at their website.

“This is my fifth year doing this, and one of the coolest things is seeing them do something that they didn’t think they could do,” Read said. “The last leg of the trip is 100 miles, which is a major accomplishment.”

When Anderson established the youth home, he rode from Vidalia to Boys Town, then known as Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home, in Omaha, Neb.

To honor the 50-year anniversary during the sixth annual trip next year, Read and other teens will take the road to Omaha.

“Last year was inspiring,” said Jonathon H., 18, of Dublin, who rode with the team during the fourth annual trip and decided to tag along again this year to give encouragement. “I was able to push myself and learn about myself. Now I’m more comfortable with public speaking ...”

During the trip, the young men learn communication, bonding and life skills. Each day, they trade being “the boss,” handling the finances for meals and gas, leading tent pitching and the cycling pack.

“We learn leadership and rely on the guys we usually see as friends every day,” said Brad P., 19, of Wilmington, N.C. “It’s our big second chance, but it becomes more than that. We’re doing something that matters, something that’s bigger than us.”

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