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Tour de Brandon: Bicyclists raise money, help build Habitat Home

Volunteers raise the walls for a Habitat for Humanity home going up in Brandon. It is partly supported by the Habitat 500, a group of bicyclists who raise money for Habitat and pause to help build. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

The bicycle bling was one clue that there was something unusual about the Habitat for Humanity home going up in Brandon. Bicycle tattoos were another.

The third? Customized blue-and-white nail polish jobs proclaiming, "Habitat 500."

"People notice them, especially if they're on gentlemen," said teacher Michaela Roske of St. Cloud, a cyclist and Habitat volunteer who said she painted them on at least 25 sets of fingernails. "They're a conversation starter."

Once a year, Habitat for Humanity supporters embark on a 500-mile bicycle trek in Minnesota, and they pick one Habitat home along their route to support. Some bicyclists give up their day's pedaling to help build the home, and the group presents bicycles and helmets to the family buying the home.

Volunteers come from all over the country, and this week they pitched tents outside the Runestone Center or slept indoors on cots, their socks drying on goal nets.

"We rotate throughout the state," said Chris Vosbeek, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Minnesota, which supports the local chapters. "We were in St. Cloud last year, Hibbing the year before that."

This year, the 102 cyclists taking part hope to raise $330,000. They have through December to finish fundraising, and they will designate which Habitat affiliate they want their pledges to go to.

The local chapter will likely receive about $10,000 to $30,000, which will help pay for construction supplies, said Lori Anderson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County.

Making connections

One family in Brandon will be benefiting from the organization's work this week. They include Katie Klemenhagen, her fiance Robert Studway III, and their five children: Kyla, 14, Kaleiyah, 9, Myia, 6, Jo, 4, and Tommy, 10 months.

"I couldn't find housing in Brandon that was affordable and had room for all of us," Klemenhagen said. She and her family are living in an Alexandria apartment until their home is done, and she has been driving her children to school in Brandon.

This year's Habitat 500 ride traveled from Becker to Fergus Falls. Bicyclists rode along the Central Lakes Trail, which runs about seven miles south of the Brandon Habitat home.

Klemenhagen's parents live just three miles away.

"The girls can hop on the bike trail and ride to our house," said Katie's mom, Cindy.

The promise of bicycles helped get the kids out of bed Wednesday morning, Klemenhagen said.

Wednesday began with a prayer and volunteers introducing themselves, including where they were from.

Las Vegas.

Colorado.

Iowa.

Wisconsin.

Klemenhagen began to tear up.

"They're out here building on my house," she said, rubbing her arms. "I get chills."

Klemenhagen is no stranger to charity work, but usually she has been on the other end. The founder of Kare Packs, she and her family solicit donations of toiletries and backpacks, which they then distribute to the homeless in the Twin Cities.

Living in a third-story apartment with no elevator has proved challenging when it comes to packing and storing the backpacks. Her new house, expected to be finished by November, has a garage that will make her mission easier.

Helping the homeless, she said, "is my heart. They're the forgotten. I've always had a soft spot for old people and the disabled, and for the homeless, too."

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