Cyclists pump up hearts, environment

Recycled exercise equipment - formerly known as clothes hangers or toe-stubbers - are getting a new "green" start in life at a United Methodist community center in Detroit.

Gym membership and green living are not two options not usually open to most members of Cass Community Social Services, said the Rev. Faith Fowler, pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church and director of the social services.

Many of the people served by Cass are homeless and are most often the "brunt of a bad environment," Fowler said.

"Our folks aren't buying wind turbines or hybrid cars or installing insulation," she said, "and they don't have gym memberships."

The gym and bikes are the latest installment of green industries offered in this downtown Detroit community through the church and social services center.

Other enterprises include businesses that turn recycled tires into mud mats, document and X-ray shredding, a one-cup mobile car wash and a sewing program. The businesses are run by the homeless as part of vocational training programs.

"I work in the mud mat assembly room," said Marcellus Sabra, "where we actually take tires, used tires out of the community, and we bring them back here and we make mud mats out of them, like door mats."

Fowler said they have been able so far to pick up 17,000 tires at no cost to the city. The unused tires are rotated into jobs, and the landfill becomes smaller.

"Cass has developed a reputation for marrying its physical plants with sustainability," Fowler said.

Burning calories, creating energy

A donor gave 10 stationary bikes that produce electricity to Cass and that energy operates the green industries warehouse.

The company that manufactures the bikes, The Green Revolution, estimates that a group of 10 bikes used throughout a year could create 1,800 kilowatt hours of electricity - lighting up to 36 houses for a month, Fowler said.

Cyclists include homeless men, women and children living in one of the Cass shelters or transitional housing as well as staff of Cass and volunteers who come to the church on mission trips.

"The cool thing about this part of Cass' ministry is it is building pride for people," said Lydia Lanni, one of the volunteers recently passing through the green gym. "It's not about giving a handout; it's about helping and building up people."

Treadmills, weights, a pool table, a StairMaster and other donated equipment are also available in the gym, which is open six days a week and two evenings.

"Poor people tend to suffer from a lack of exercise and spotty nutrition," Fowler said. "This combination produces high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc."

In addition to pumping up participants hearts, the bikes also give the community a way to have a positive impact on their neighborhood.

"This combination produces high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure (and) heart disease."

Two of Cass' buildings use solar panels to heat the water for a couple hundred homeless people to take showers, do laundry and receive meals, Fowler said. Plans are to add a geothermal heating unit to a 40-unit apartment building.

"It's all intertwined - the problems of poverty, pollution and unemployment as well as the solutions of health, housing and jobs."

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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