Volunteers from all over landed upon Effingham County last week as part of Habitat for Humanity’s RV Care-A-Vanners.
For two weeks retirees and semi-retirees worked on a house at the site of the Restore in Rincon.
Build supervisor Harry Fritts, 69, led the 16-member team as he has done many times before.
“He’s our fearless leader,” fellow Care-A-Vanner Russell Boyer said.
For five years, Fritts has been traveling the country in his RV taking part on builds. The retired North Carolina Department of Transportation engineer and builder does 14 to 15 builds a year. In the winter months, he heads south and in the summer he goes up north. He is currently in the midst of six straight weeks of building homes.
Ray and Krystal Young of Beaver Falls, Penn., have been participating since 2003. According to Krystal they have done about 15 builds so far, averaging about five a year.
The volunteers take part on builds for different reasons.
Boyer, 63, of Fort Myers, Fla., was pushed into becoming a Care-A-Vanner after his wife complained about him lying around the house after retiring from the Federal Aviation Association.
He had already been working with Habitat for Humanity, but with his wife’s nudging he became more involved and joined the Care-A-Vanners.
Boyer now goes all over the country helping to build houses, participating in up to 10 builds a year.
Jim Stouffer, 69, of Johnson City, Tenn., participates for altruistic reasons.
“It’s a very giving type of project,” he said.
He also likes that the builds allow people to spread the message of Jesus Christ in both words and actions.
According to Fritts, there are about 2,000 such volunteers total in the U.S. and the average age is probably close to 70. He reckoned the youngest volunteer on the build here in Effingham County was in their early 60s and the oldest was 78 years old.
According to Habitat for Humanity’s Web site, people from all ages and backgrounds are welcome to participate as Care-A-Vanners.
Krystal Young previously managed real estate; her husband was a pharmaceutical representative. Fritts noted that on builds he has participated on there have been former doctors, lawyers and a lot of nurses.
“A lot of them have retired and sold their home and living in them (RVs),” he said.
The lifestyle of a Care-a-Vanner is perfect for older volunteers who now have time on their hands.
“Well, we retired and wanted to travel and wanted to do something along the way,” Young, 54, said of why she and her husband decided to participate.
Fritts admitted that he, too, tries to have a little travel time in between builds.
He left Effingham County on Friday headed to North Carolina, where he will work on two builds. However, he plans to drive over to where his daughter lives and spend some time with her.
When he leaves North Carolina he will head to Minnesota and stop over in Indiana along the way to visit friends.
Stouffer isn’t retired, though. He and his wife manage two car dealerships in Tennessee. He sets aside 20 weeks in each year to volunteer as a Care-A-Vanner.
“I just take off and go do it,” he said.
Care-A-Vanners participate in several aspects of home construction, including roofing, interior and finish work.
On Wednesday, volunteers at the Restore site were laying roofing felt, installing kitchen cabinets and painting. On Thursday afternoon, they were installing windows.
And the ladies get right into all the action.
“I’ve done pretty much everything,” Young said. She was adamant that women shouldn’t be intimidated by the work.
“A lot of ladies have never driven a hammer before,” Fritts observed.
However, construction is not the only volunteer opportunity Care-A-Vanners can participate in. They also may volunteer in disaster relief, in the affiliate office or as go-fers around the build site.
Fritts explained a typical day in the life of a Care-A-Vanner on a build: everyone arrives at the work site at 8 a.m. where they begin the day with devotion and any needed announcements. They proceed to work and at 10 a.m. they take a 15-minute break so everyone can get a snack and drink fluids to stay hydrated. Lunch is usually around noon and most often is provided by local organizations. They call it a day around 3 p.m.
“We figure six to seven hours is a plenty for our age group,” he said.
Yet, the Care-A-Vanners do more than build homes for those in need. They also develop lasting friendships with each other.
“We get like a family,” Fritts said.
When they all return to their RVs at the end of the day, they sit around and talk.
“I call it a bull session,” Fritts said, adding that this time allows them to get to know each other, and they also go out to eat together.
On Wednesday afternoon, the group had their farewell dinner at El Real in Rincon.
The friends Fritts will visit in Indiana later this summer are ones he first met on a build.
Effingham County also shows their friendliness to the volunteers.
Local churches and other groups usually provide lunch for them. The Care-A-Vanner build here always coincides with the Mossy Oak Bluegrass Festival in Guyton. Allen Lanier, owner of the festival grounds, allows the group to park their RVs for free on his land.
“I enjoy the people here, and I enjoy the music festival,” said Fritts, who just completed his fifth build in Effingham County over the last five years.
The process for becoming a Care-A-Vanner is rather easy. You simply contact the RV coordinator and have your name added to the database. Thereafter, the program’s quarterly newsletter, which lists all the builds across the country, will be mailed to you.
Fritts noted that despite some people’s assumptions that the volunteers are compensated for their work, he made it clear they are not.
Sometimes they have to pay for a spot to park their RVs and of course, there is the high price of gas. Fritts pointed out that the large vehicles only average about 8 miles a gallon. Yet, the Care-A-Vanners continue traveling the country helping others in need.
“It gets quite expensive,” Fritts said, but “I doubt it’ll slow any of us down.”
Some people have even wrongly assumed that Habitat for Humanity pays for their RVs. Fritts shot that assumption down as well.
“The only reward we get is the reward in our heart,” he said.
To learn more about how to become a Care-A-Vanner contact the coordinator at 800-422-4828 ext. 2446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.