OSWEGO — It’s the longest stretch he’s ever biked, and it might just be one the most meaningful rides of his life.
For 220 miles, Faith United Church Pastor Andrew Hinman, 44, will go on a solo bike ride. Every pedal is for more than just points toward good health. It’s also to help an Afghan family resettle and call Oswego their new home. It’ll be thanks to efforts from Hinman and the rest of the members of Oswego Welcomes New Americans Sponsor Circle.
Hinman will pedal off on his journey Thursday morning and plans to reach his destination by Friday. It’s an almost 20-hour journey through small towns in upstate New York to his final destination in Silver Bay.
The reason for the ride was not as spontaneous as it sounds, but the choice to do it for what the group hopes for is a family of five to sponsor, was an excellent idea. Hinman was ready to bike to the Silver Bay YMCA and Retreat Center for the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ annual get together. So, he thought, why not turn it into an even more wholesome opportunity?
“This would be a great way to initiate some fundraising and invite some folks from my wider circle who also enjoy cycling, or just enjoy watching people do something crazy," Hinman said. “It would be fun to help contribute to a great cause of potential refugee resettlement.”
Hinman has been an avid biker for nearly six years. It was something he said he could do for fun, while getting to see a lot of locations. He’s competed in triathlons and participated in Oswego’s Tour de Loop, a nearly 30- to 50-mile annual bike ride.
With friends during the pandemic, Hinman took a trip to Kingston, Ontario. It lasted two days for 180 miles. So, he’s prepared for the journey ahead with prior miles behind him.
“A lot of people sort of faint at the idea of cycling that many miles, but when you’re doing things like that, you don’t have to worry about your calorie intake,” he joked. “So this will be a new mark.”
Hinman’s bike ride will begin from his home in Oswego, cycle over to Central Square, the north end of Oneida Lake and into Rome where he’ll get on the Erie Canal Trail. He’ll hit some smaller towns before stopping for a rest in Amsterdam. This is his day one goal, Hinman said, and is about 120 miles.
It’s the path that will eventually take him to his destination in Silver Bay. And of course, there’s an opportunity to check in on Hinman on social media as he goes.
“I plan to do little Facebook posts and things along the way,” he said. “I’m hoping about 12 hours total, including stops Thursday. Then I’m hoping eight hours Friday.”
The Faith United pastor is hoping to rake in $4,000 as part of his fundraising effort. He’s nearly there, having already gotten $3,000.
The OWNA Sponsor Circle consists of four members; Fred Ringwald, Karen Ringwald, Rev. Anne Wichelns and Anne Pagano. Together, the group wants to sponsor a family of five. They just need $2,275 per Afghan newcomer. They are looking to raise a minimum of $11,375.
Hinman told The Palladium-Times they expect to hit 60 percent of their fundraising goal within the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, within the next few months, the group will have enough to submit their application to the Sponsor Circle program. And thanks to some outside help, the group is inching closer.
“It’s really taken off recently,” Hinman said. “Mayor (Billy) Barlow and the city of Oswego announced a $2,500 grant. Faith United Church, for example, has pledged some money with a bike ride.”
The help is needed because resettling refugees is not an easy task. It’s one that Hinman said a lot of people don’t understand how complicated it is. And though the group is edging ever closer to their goal, they are up against a deadline.
“For Afghan evacuees in particular, they mentioned (Episcopal Migrant Ministry) that the federal government’s goal is to have our Afghan evacuees resettled by the end of the current federal fiscal year.”
That ends Sept. 30. In the event that the group doesn’t meet that goal by the given time, it was not for nothing. That money will go toward helping other refugees fleeing their homelands rebuild their lives in the safe haven of Oswego.
Currently, thousands of Afghan evacuees are being housed in American military bases. Many fled after the U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended all operations in August 2021. More are fleeing in the aftermath of the Taliban establishing its governmental body in the country. Some have gone to Iran for safety, while others fled to Pakistan.
Most of those here are already currently waiting to be processed through a backlogged system, either to obtain asylum or a Special Immigrant Visa, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Association, a nonprofit and partner of the Sponsor Circle Program.