It’s the hottest time of the year, but that isn’t deterring five cyclists, all residents of the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, from making a more than 500-mile trip to raise money for the home, and to honor the home’s founder Paul Anderson, a former Olympian who once bore the title of “World’s Strongest Man.”
The 12th annual bike ride will spread the message of the Christian rehabilitation home that has served more than 1,200 teens in its history, as well as provided resources to parents and families.
The group left Monday morning from Thomasville, and will bike through Florida, with stops in Mayo, Interlachen, New Smyrna Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach, before making their way to St. Simons Island Friday and returning to Vidalia on Saturday.
Randy Frost, program director at the residential home, founded in 1961, said the home is a nonprofit organization. The cyclists, he said, will be raising awareness and money along their route.
“We survive on fundraising and donations,” Frost said. “It takes $9,000 a month to house and serve each boy, and the average stay is 15-18 months.”
Supporters can contribute to the Paul Anderson Bike Ride by sponsoring one of the five young men participating. This year’s $200,000 fundraising goal is 12 percent of the youth home’s annual revenue and the ride is one of three annual fundraising events for the organization. Supporters can hear each boy’s story and donate at payhbikeride.com.
The home has capacity for 20 boys, and currently houses 14. Founded as an alternative to incarceration for juvenile boys, the home receives its residents from one of two sources.
“Of the 14 we have now, several were given the opportunity to come here rather than go to jail,” Frost said. “Once they change their lifestyles around, a lot of times, but not always, the charges are dropped.”
Other boys are brought to the home by their families who want to avoid their boys being locked up.
Many of the young men also bring with them problems with substance abuse.
“We used to not have a substance abuse program,” Frost said, adding that he and another counselor at the home have become certified substance abuse counselors. “I wouldn’t say all of them have addiction, but they majority have dabbled in that culture.”
All of the boys undergo a 10-week Prime for Life course, which is an introductory substance abuse program. Those who need more help participate in Prime Solutions, which features more intensive education and intervention, and is a program used in many residential substance abuse treatment programs.
In addition to counseling and school work, physical fitness is a key component of life at the Paul Anderson Youth Home. Frost said the boys have access to a well-equipped gym, go on frequent runs and have a full physical education program available to them.
“We want them to grow mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “When you get those working together, you get positive results.”
The Paul Anderson Home operates on a tier system, meaning when the boys arrive at the home they face more restrictions than those who have been there for a while and are playing by the rules — attending school, participating in home life, and working through their issues constructively. It is these top tier boys who are participating in the bike ride. The group’s stop on St. Simons Island will take place around 7 p.m. Friday at Neptune Park in the St. Simons Pier Village. Frost said that at least one of the boys will give a testimonial about the home, and how he has benefitted from living there.
The public is invited to come by and meet the boys, as well as the staff members who are accompanying them on their trip. Their posse includes a lead van and a follow van, and a nurse from the home. Frost estimates there are approximately 30 people making the trip with the four cyclists and one alternate.
“They walk in here as boys, they leave as young men of character,” Frost said. “They have earned the opportunity to represent us.”