Riding on to support affordable housing

Most years, Apple Valley resident Bret Busse would meet up with friends in mid-July for a multi-day bicycle ride to support Habitat for Humanity. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, he had to go it alone – and raised more money for the organization than he ever has.

Apple Valley resident raises almost $5,000 for Habitat for Humanity

This is the 15th consecutive year Bret Busse has gone on a multi-day bicycle trip to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, but this year’s ride was unlike any of the others.

First, he didn’t have anybody with which to share the experience. The ride typically is a group venture, but that was made impossible by the coronavirus pandemic. Busse and everybody else who participated in the 2020 Habitat 500 had to head out on their own during the fundraising project July 12-18.

Busse, an Apple Valley resident, typically raised $3,500 to $4,000 each year he has done the ride. This year, with a chaotic economic situation, he said he had no idea going in how much he might collect.

“It turned out to be my highest year ever,” Busse said. “This year I came close to $5,000.”

The money will go to two Habitat for Humanity organizations – the state chapter and the Twin Cities chapter. Busse, who this year joined the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota, said the response reinforced to him that people believe in the organization’s mission.

“Because of the economic situation, I certainly thought it was possible that people wouldn’t be able to donate as much as they have before,” said Busse, “but the response here was incredible.”

According to Busse, 96 percent of the funds raised go to Habitat for Humanity projects, which include building and rehabilitating homes for the economically disadvantaged, providing mortgage and foreclosure assistance, and upgrading homes for seniors and veterans.

The Habitat 500 was first held in 1993, and last year raised more than $300,000 in Minnesota. This year’s Minnesota ride was going to be held in and around Bemidji before it had to be turned into an individual, virtual event. About 100 riders fanned out across the state, posting videos along their routes.

Usually, the routes are planned and marked by event organizers; this year, Busse and other riders had to create their own routes. One of Busse’s trips took him from Apple Valley to Lake Minnetonka and back, logging 122 miles on the route. Another day, he biked to Red Wing. Another trip took him past his elementary, junior high and high schools.

He also biked past 17 places frequented by the Replacements, an alternative rock band from Minneapolis that released several iconic records in the 1980s. “I tried to ride past places where they recorded and played,” he said.

Without the support system provided by Habitat for Humanity and other riders, Busse said he knew putting in 500 miles would be tougher.

“I assumed doing it completely solo would be harder, but I really had no idea just how much harder,” he said. “A few years ago some of us did 600 miles in seven days. Last year we did 500 miles in six days. We’ve done rides with extreme heat, and wind, and hills, and none of them were as difficult. There’s a lesson here: Doing something challenging with a group, or even one other person, with a shared purpose, working together toward the same goal, giving each other power and strength, is so much easier than doing it alone.”

Habitat for Humanity chapters in other states have organized fundraising rides, but Minnesota’s is believed to be the longest running. At first, Busse’s involvement had something to do with keeping in shape.

“Fifteen years ago I started doing triathlons,” he said. “I was looking to do some rides for training. Someone in my church found out about the Habitat 500 ride and asked my sister-in-law if she knew anybody who might be interested.”

And so it began. The event has taken him to all corners of the state and introduced him to people who have become longtime friends. He hopes to be able to reconnect with them next year, when the Habitat 500 is scheduled to return to Bemidji.

The economic fallout from the pandemic – and the social justice issues brought to the forefront following George Floyd’s death – make the work of agencies such as Habitat for Humanity more important than ever, Busse said.

“While our state is a comfortable home for many, Minnesotans of color, especially Black Minnesotans, rarely enjoy the comforts and safety of this place,” he said. “We’re one of the most racially segregated states in the country and we have some of the worst racial disparities – in education, home ownership, income and health. I’m proud to work, and ride, with Habitat Minnesota to build a Minnesota where everyone can thrive.”

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