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Great American Bailout: Men cross country to lend helping hands

From left, Sean Filzen and his uncle, Doug Francisco, from California and Washington state, work on the Reeves family's tree lot north of Bemidji. Filzen has taken on a cross-country trip, helping people along the way and videoing people he meets as a senior project for Marylhurst University in Oregon. Francisco took a month's leave from his work as a contractor to join the outreach service. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Sean Filzen, a 26-year-old student at Marylhurst University in Oregon, chose a 30-day nationwide service outreach for his senior project.

With his uncle, Doug Francisco, and a van full of tools, he is traveling east from the West Coast to offering what he calls the Great American Bailout and National Neighbor Service Project.

Marylhurst University, "a liberal arts college with a Catholic heritage," requires students to perform a service project or internship.

"It's a symbolic gesture, bailout from the bottom up," Filzen said. "I saw this as a possible solution, that we can still do little things for our neighbors."

To begin the project, Filzen said, he sent notices to chambers of commerce along their route. Since then, many of the stops have been through chance meetings or suggestions by people they have helped.

As a media and film major, Filzen also is documenting the trip with video interviews with people they meet along the road.

On Wednesday, Filzen and Francisco were cleaning up a grove of dead birch trees at the home of Irv and Karen Reeves and their sons, Garrett, 20, and Dutch, 15. For today, the Reeves family connected Filzen and Francisco with another area resident who needs help to finish painting his house.

Filzen said they have camped in parks and asked the camp hosts for tasks, such as cleaning picnic tables. They also meet people who suggest other people who could use helping hands.

"Hanging out and having conversations with strangers, we quickly become neighbors," Filzen said. "I call that a good-morning-how-are-you attitude."

Francisco said he took a month off work to join his nephew on the cross-country work trip.

"He came up with a great idea," Francisco said. "I fell in love with it. That made it even better. The thank-yous are huge. We're looking for smiles everywhere."

They plan to stay until Saturday in the Bemidji area before moving on to help a homeowner in Madison, Wis. They invited anyone who would like help with a project to call their hosts at 368-7853.

After the stop in Madison, Filzen and Francisco plan to head to Detroit, Mich., without any specific work destination.

"We'll go to a city that's really impoverished," Filzen said.There will be a lot more to do."