FMCA members participate in Habitat for Humanity builds.
By Lynn Laymon, F245876
Paul and Mary Dammers, F135857, made the trip from upstate New York. Ray and Jewel Hebert, F128509, visited family and friends along the way as they meandered in from New Hampshire on a circular route that eventually would return them to Florida for the winter. Jim and Ruby Lancaster, F192149, came all the way from Louisiana, while Barri and Rosemary Amor, F113404, were experimenting with extended RV living away from their home in eastern Canada.
What do these FMCA members have in common? They were in Redmond, Oregon, last August for FMCA’s 38th annual summer grand international convention — three days of seminars, chapter meetings, socializing, food, fun, exhibits, and entertainment.
They also were in Redmond because they care about others, because they felt a need to give back. These FMCA members came to the Northwest to offer a hand up to several carefully selected local families in need — a boost that will change the families’ lives forever, as well as leave a long-lasting impression on the volunteers.
These people, and scores of other FMCA member families who share the resolve to help those less fortunate, spent the days and weeks following the Redmond convention volunteering with local affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), the Georgia-based Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing and homelessness worldwide. Since the organization’s inception in 1976, Habitat volunteers have built nearly 120,000 homes, providing decent places to live for more than 600,000 people.
FMCA volunteers are doing their part to advance the Habitat mission. Sixty members of the Safari International chapter built a Habitat home in Redmond, from foundation to completion, in just 13 days. Twenty-two volunteers from the FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity spent the two weeks following the convention working with the Bend, Oregon, area affiliate, building one house from foundation to roof, and installing drywall, roofing, siding, and landscaping at several other locations. Still more FMCA member families headed 130 miles west of Redmond to participate in one of Habitat’s RV Care-A-Vanner building projects in Corvallis, Oregon.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are Habitat’s most visible supporters and active volunteers, but, contrary to popular belief, they did not start the organization. Habitat was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller, a couple who gave the hard-earned wealth they had accumulated at an early age to charity and dedicated their lives to eliminating poverty housing everywhere.
The organization is founded on Christian principles, but volunteerism and home ownership are open to those of any faith or even no faith. The Habitat mission centers on partnerships. First are the local affiliates — more than 2,000 of them worldwide — that raise funds, choose building sites, select and counsel homeowner families, manage construction, and solicit volunteer participation.
The second aspect of the partnership equation are the partner families — the potential homeowners. Again, contrary to what many believe, Habitat is not a giveaway program. Homeowner families are chosen on the basis of need; their ability to pay the no-profit, zero-interest mortgage; and their willingness to work with the local affiliate and volunteers. As a down payment, each family is required to make a significant contribution of “sweat equity” — usually 300 to 500 hours working on their own and other Habitat houses — before taking possession of their own home. They then are required to make monthly payments for the next 15 to 20 years, until the mortgage is paid off.
Building materials make up the third element of the partnership equation. The materials used to construct and outfit these modest Habitat homes are donated or purchased with donated funds. Dow Corning donates insulation materials, for example. Whirlpool has committed to donating a stove and refrigerator to every Habitat house built in North America during a five-year period.
The part of the Habitat equation that gets the most media coverage is the volunteers — individuals; church, corporate, and community groups; college students; and RVers — who do the vast majority of the construction work on Habitat houses. Working together, affiliate staff, partner families, donors, and volunteers make these builds happen, offering a hand up, not a handout, to families who otherwise would be unable to live in a home of their own.
RVers can get involved with Habitat in several ways. During extended stays at a home base they can volunteer with a local HFHI affiliate — which can be found in the telephone book — or through a church or community group. When on the road, RVers can participate in RVer-only builds organized for groups such as the Safari International chapter or the FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity mentioned earlier. In fact, many RVers plan their travels around Habitat builds designed specifically for RVers, participating, for instance, in a build in Florida during the winter, one in North Carolina as they move north in the spring, a Michigan build in midsummer, and another on their way back south for the winter. Volunteering along the way adds substance to their travels.
All RVer builds fall under the jurisdiction of Habitat’s own separate organization, RV Care-A-Vanners, a rapidly growing 2,500-member group of RVers interested in donating their time and talents to the Habitat cause. Care-A-Vanner activities are coordinated through the RV Care-A-Vanners Information Desk, staffed by a full-time volunteer at Habitat headquarters in Americus, Georgia. The RV information desk coordinator schedules RVer-only builds with Habitat affiliates across the United States and advertises the dates and places of these builds through the quarterly Care-A-Vanner newsletter. Volunteers then call the desk and sign up for the builds of their choosing. During 2001 the RV desk organized and coordinated more than 80 Care-A-Vanner builds, involving nearly 1,000 volunteering RVers.
Putting yourself on the Care-A-Vanner mailing list is as easy as calling the RV information desk at (800) 422-4828 (HABITAT), extension 2446, or e-mailing to [email protected] The coordinator will enter your name in the database, send you an information package, and place your name on the list to receive the quarterly Care-A-Vanner newsletter, which provides information about upcoming builds. The only prerequisite to becoming a Care-A-Vanner is that you be outfitted to travel to builds in a self-contained RV.
The number of volunteers permitted to participate in each RV build is determined by the local affiliate. Many factors influence that limit — availability of RV parking, building materials, amount of work to be completed, size of build site, and the preferences of the on-site supervisor. Typical builds involve five to 10 RVs, with six or seven being the most efficient number.
RV parking is arranged by the affiliate. Full hookups are obtained, if possible, but electric (sometimes minimal) and water hookups, with a dump station within easy driving distance, are considered acceptable. Volunteers might park at the job site, a church parking lot, a vacant lot, or any safe place the affiliate can arrange at no charge. Occasionally, when using a commercial campground, volunteer RVers pay a nominal fee.
Blitz builds, those characterized by large numbers of volunteers constructing a house in just a few days, such as the Safari International build in Redmond, receive most of the media attention. But blitz builds are more the exception than the rule. Most Habitat houses are constructed over a period of months, depending upon available funding and volunteer support.
RVer-only builds normally last two weeks — 10 days of building. In that time a team of RV volunteers can build the house from bare foundation to being walled and under roof or further, depending upon the number of volunteers, type of construction, availability of materials, and the organization of the on-site supervisor. Finishing the house often is left to local volunteers or volunteer groups that follow.
Care-A-Vanners don’t always build from the ground up. Sometimes the team arrives to find the house (or houses) already “dried in” — under roof, walled, with windows and doors installed. In those cases, the RVers hang siding and drywall, paint, and do finishing work. The benefit of working on the finishing end of a Habitat house is participating in the dedication ceremony. Being present when the partner family is handed a Bible and the keys to their new home is a moment not soon forgotten; there is rarely a dry eye in the house. Attending just one dedication ceremony makes it all worthwhile.
A typical building day lasts five to seven working hours; starting and quitting times vary by group and affiliate. In hot weather, the workday usually begins around 8:00 a.m. and is over by 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., with an hour for lunch.
The local affiliate normally solicits churches, civic groups, and businesses to provide lunches for volunteer groups. Morning and afternoon snacks are well taken care of also. Volunteers typically are guaranteed two weeks of as many homemade brownies and other goodies as they can eat.
Mornings at the job site begin with short devotions, usually offered by a member of the local clergy, followed by a review of what tasks need to be accomplished that day. The volunteers then are divided into groups and eagerly begin to work. Participants are urged to work within their personal limitations and are not asked to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. When volunteers get tired, they take a break.
Volunteers need not have special skills or sophisticated tools. The work backgrounds of Care-A-Vanners extend from first-time builders with little or no construction skills to retired general contractors who have seen and done it all, with all levels of experience in between.
Most volunteers bring their own personal hand tools — hammer, razor knife, speed square, 25-foot measuring tape, carpenter’s pencil, and a tool belt in which to carry them. The local affiliate provides the more serious construction tools — ladders, saws, and drills — but if volunteers have favorite power tools, they certainly are welcome to use them.
Safety is a major concern at Habitat build sites. Volunteers are urged to wear work gloves, sturdy work shoes, and eye protection when necessary, and to correct or report unsafe conditions to the team leader. Hard hats are sometimes required, but are provided by the affiliate.
Volunteers with building backgrounds are always appreciated, but experience is not a prerequisite. The local affiliate provides an on-site construction supervisor who is responsible for directing construction activity — making sure local building codes are followed, assigning work crews, procuring material, and ensuring that proper construction techniques are employed.
In addition to the affiliate’s on-site supervisor, each build team has a volunteer team leader who assumes the organizational and administrative responsibilities of the group. These include serving as the liaison between the team and affiliate, interfacing with local media, and organizing off-the-job group activities. The team leader’s most important on-site function is ensuring that every team member has meaningful work to do and the opportunity to learn new skills. Experienced team members are encouraged to teach the less knowledgeable.
Volunteers who cannot perform construction work or those who choose not to participate in the build are still able to make a meaningful contribution. Many types of non-construction work can be done — stuffing envelopes in the affiliate office, organizing lunches and snacks, or painting. Every volunteer has the chance to make a difference during a Habitat build.
Each Habitat build presents different opportunities. That diversity keeps many RVers in the Care-A-Vanner program. Meeting new people, learning new skills, offering a meaningful purpose for visiting different parts of the country, making a contribution, working alongside the partner families, giving back, and realizing a sense of accomplishment are just a few of the benefits expressed by volunteers.
You, too, can reap the rewards of helping others. Join fellow FMCA members in giving a hand up, not a handout.
FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity
The FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity was formed at FMCA’s 1998 summer convention in Ogden, Utah, and chartered during the 1999 winter convention in Perry, Georgia. Since then it has grown to a membership of more than 200 FMCA member families.
Working with information provided by the RV Care-A-Vanners RV information desk and local affiliates, the chapter schedules Habitat builds in conjunction with all FMCA conventions and most area rallies. Each build lasts two weeks and is open only to chapter members. Participation normally is limited to 10 coaches or fewer. The build schedule is distributed through On The Road Again, the chapter’s quarterly newsletter.
For membership information, visit www.fmca-hfh.com, contact chapter secretary Wally Starz at [email protected], or call (602) 300-4550. FMCA members who join the chapter are automatically added to Habitat for Humanity International’s Care-A-Vanner mailing list.
Clive Rainey To Speak At Perry Convention
Clive Rainey, Habitat for Humanity International’s first volunteer, is scheduled to appear at FMCA’s winter international convention at the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter in Perry, Georgia, on Wednesday, March 20. Habitat for Humanity, established in 1976, is headquartered in Americus, approximately 40 miles southwest of Perry. Mr. Rainey is director of the Habitat’s 21st Century Challenge and began with Habitat 25 years ago as a volunteer.
Mr. Fuller will speak to convention attendees in Reaves Arena at 7:00 p.m. prior to the evening entertainment program.
The FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity chapter will host a reception for Mr. Rainey at the McGill Exhibition Hall, Seminar 3, at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Rainey will host a question-and-answer session after his talk. Copies of Habitat books autographed by Habitat founder and president Millard Fuller, including the latest, titled One Family At A Time, will be available for sale beginning Monday morning, March 18, at the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity booth in the FMCA Information Center. Stop by the booth for details.
Habitat For Humanity Designated “Official Charity” Of Perry Convention
Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), the Georgia-based ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide, has been designated the official charity of the Perry convention. Donations can be made at the Habitat booth located in the FMCA Information Center beginning Monday, March 18, or by mailing a check to: HFHI, RV Care-A-Vanners/FMCA, P.O. Box 369, Americus, GA 31709. Make checks payable to Habitat for Humanity International. For your contribution to be credited to FMCA, please place “Event Code GV2601” on the memo line of the check.