At any given time, there are about 6,000 Habitat Care-A-Vanners on the road. Some are full-time RV dwellers, some part-time, some are on vacation, but they all love to travel and they all believe in the same thing.
“It’s the mission that’s the glue, I think,” says Mary Vandeveld, a longtime Care-A-Vanner who coordinates the program for Habitat for Humanity International. “Our mission is to help local affiliates with their building and rebuilding programs to help get people into affordable housing.”
Many of those local affiliates depend on Care-A-Vanners to complete homes, like Jim Wells County Habitat in Alice, Texas. “We have been blessed with 16 Care-A-Vanner builds, approximately 250 unique, gifted, empathetic and diverse individuals, ages early 20s to late 70s, from at least 20 states, Canada and the U.K.,” says affiliate president Nora Barrera Rycroft. “Without their help, we would have constantly been facing disappointment and even failure. With them, our all-volunteer affiliate is regularly invigorated and blessed.”
Available builds are posted on habitat.org for sign-up, which allows Care-A-Vanners to plan to meet friends and build together. “I think what attracts us to it is not only the opportunity to make a difference in some people’s lives, but also the friendships we’ve developed. Most of our close friends now are all Care-A-Vanners, who we meet at various places on the road,” Vandeveld says.
Diane Gravlee and her husband George have been Care-A-Vanners since 1994. “It is just a really neat bunch of people,” she says. “When we get to a build and we find someone we have not met before, we shake hands and say hello, but by the end of the two weeks, we are hugging goodbye and promising to keep in touch.”
Finding someone they haven’t met before might be a challenge at this point: The Gravlees have built with 83 affiliates in 42 states. Every winter, they meet for a build with a “reunion team” — 11 couples and one individual who bonded after Hurricane Katrina and and want to keep building together. “We are very diverse politically, financially and religiously,” Diane says “I am not sure what actually bonds our friendships, but they run very deep.”
The nature of a Care-A-Vanner build certainly fosters community. On average, people work side by side for two consecutive weeks. After the workday is done, they retire to the same campsite, often sharing meals and stories by a fire. That element pleased Lowell and Linda Lamont, who participated in their first build in West Liberty, Kentucky, in 2012. The Lamonts are retired and appreciated the chance to do some good while sharing a new experience with new friends. “I think it was very good for us,” Linda says. “It was good for us to be doing things, and we really felt like we were contributing.” Shortly after their first build, the Lamonts signed up for two more in early 2013. They may be on their way to being “hooked,” as a lot of Care-A-Vanners say they are.
“We’re travelers, and we’re looking to travel with a purpose,” says Vandeveld. “The thing about Care-A-Vanners is when you sit around a campfire and talk, you always ask where you’ve been and where you’re going.” For Habitat RV Care-A-Vanners, the ultimate destination is always helping another family build a simple, decent, affordable home of their own.