Warmth from up north RV Care-a-Vanners, ‘Snow-birds’ partner with locals to build Habitat homes

People who think retirees check out and live a leisurely life of luxury don’t know the Care-a-Vanners.

Dick and Linda Aide quickly tired of “touristy stuff” after they left the working world in 1997. The Wisconsin-based snowbirds felt the need to do something besides tool around in their RV and visit sites that catered to visitors in Texas and Arizona.

They visited Texas, visiting the LBJ State Park and Fredericksburg museums. They liked the town, but wanted to do something constructive. They began to research the Habitat for Humanity program.

Now the Aides are two of around 400 “RV Care-a-Vanners” who construct homes around the nation, using part of their “down time” to transform the face of some communities. Over the past month, 19 people in 10 RV rigs have set up camp at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park’s RV station and come into town to construct House No. 15 for the Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity program.

“We wanted to give back,” Dick Aide said. “My wife and I were young enough and thought, ‘We can do this.’ It’s extremely rewarding work and it’s gratifying to see what a difference it makes.”

Aide said seeing what some families are moving from to what they move to gives them a good feeling. Since 2000, when they began working on Habitat homes, some 50 couples have come through to pitch in. The 15 new homes have improved the neighbor-hoods in which they have worked.

March 2015–Thank you Care-A-Vanners for your work on House #15! 2015 Care-A-Vanner crew members are: first two rows, from left, John and Betty Huygen, London, Ontario; Bill and Idamae Downs, Austin, Minnesota; Ben and Jeannette Vanderlught, London, Ontario; Richard and Shirley Harvey, Lewisville, Texas; Bob and Karen Alderden, Fox Lake, Wisconsin; Russ and Maria Ritter, Port Hadlock, Washington; Suzie Harvey, Frisco, Texas; Dick and Linda Aide, Fox Lake, Wisconsin; back row, Craig Sundermeyer, Stanchfield, Minnesota; C.E. Cherry, Elgin, Texas; Wayne Murphy, Al Bispo, Pete Jensen, Don Ingles, all of Fredericksburg.

Equity

As stated by Habitat organizers, these are not “free homes.” Those who occupy them must pay a mortgage, insurance and bills and put in at least 300 hours of sweat equity toward the project. But thanks to the volunteer labor, they do get a house with a lower-than-market value.

And the houses turn into homes that can transform lives, said Richard and Shirley Harvey, who are working on their 43rd build. Over the past decade, they have helped erect homes in Alice, Mason, South Dakota, Washington, New Mexico, Mississippi and Louisiana.

We just hear amazing stories from the families when we get to meet them and work alongside them,” Richard Harvey said. “When we visit later after they have moved in, we find that these homes make a big difference. There are studies that show the children work harder in school and go to college. You can see the pride in home ownership.”

“We’ve been fortunate to have a nice home in our lives, so this is our way to pay it forward,” said Shirley Harvey. “And they appreciate every-thing we do. We could have painted this home green with pink polka dots and they would have loved it.”

The RV crews also enjoy the camaraderie, mixing and mingling with some of the same people year after year, holding potlucks and game nights.

“It’s charitable work, but it’s also a fellowship,” said Wayne Murphy, one of the crew’s Fredericksburg locals, along with Al Bispo, Don Engels, Russ Vowell and Tommy Hines. “We’re mostly a bunch of ‘Type A’ people who want to work on something and not sit at home,” the retired Houston firefighter said. “It’s a constructive use of our time.”

Ben Vanderlught and wife, Jeannette, came all the way from London, Ontario in Cana-da to give back. They learned about Habitat from a friend and found themselves knee-deep in projects. In fact, they were a part of the first Habitat project in that country.

“It feels good to do this, no matter where you are,” Ben said. “We wanted to mix a little vacation with a little work. It’s a good social activity. And we joke around that no one can quit until they die.”

House 15 is Habitat’s largest job to date. Due to the lot size and a mandatory 20-foot drainage culvert, the 50 by 120 foot lot ended up more like 25 by 80 feet of footprint space. So this is Habitat’s first two-story home, necessitated by the land constraints.

Aide said the people in town are hugely cooperative, and offered his thanks. Most want to help and offer a deal on sup-plies that are purchased during construction.

And what about the hat?

Aide wears a sweat-stained fisherman’s hat year after year and various tchotchkes get added to it during each project. It makes him easy to find on the job site.

HOW TO HELP

To get started with the Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity program, call (830) 990-8585 or email info@fbghabitat.org.

Habitat also is always looking for land lots in town at an economical price, which is becoming a rarity in Fredericksburg. The program’s current lot was donated by the Stroeher family. Its adjacent one next door, the future site of House 16, was donated by another local family.

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Ida Downs, foreground, and Shirley Harvey stain kitchen cabinet doors as work finished up last week for the Care-a-Vanners’ crew.

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Care-a-Vanner organizer Dick Aide recognizes the Perez family, who will inhabit House 15.

Aide’s hat is a recognizable part of the site.

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Bethany Lutheran Women present donation check to Habitat at House #15

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Care-A-Vanners and new Habitat House #15 homeowner, Roxanne Perez (in purple)

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