RV Care-A-Vanners Travel with a Purpose
An introduction to Habitat for Humanity’s build team on wheels and how to get involved.
By: Mary Vandeveld, RV Care-A-Vanner Program Manager  

RV Care-A-Vanners laying out shed in grass

Our adventure began when we bought our 1998 Winnebago Adventurer and launched into retirement. After having little time to travel in our working years, our plan was simple: to see the United States. We visited National Parks, museums, seashores, mountains, deserts and some great golf courses. After two years of seeing everything that interested us, we looked at each other and said, "OK, what's next?" We wanted some purpose to our travels besides sightseeing and wanted to find ways to give back - something we could do together. Stopping in Americus, GA, we learned the Habitat for Humanity story and before we left town, we had signed up for our first RV Care-A-Vanner build.

A Short History of Habitat for Humanity

Driven by a vision that everyone deserves a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976. The Christian housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering, or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower.

Two individuals cutting wood for the shed

The RV Care-A-Vanner program began 30 years ago when there was a need identified by local Habitat affiliates for skilled builders. The concept of build teams on wheels who were able to travel to every corner of the US and Canada took off. Today, we do 250 builds a year - donating more than $3 million of volunteer time to local Habitat organizations to assist them in accelerating their building program.

What It's Like to Be an RV Care-A-Vanner

Most builds are two weeks long and there is no need to have any building skills because we will teach you everything you need to know as you build. You will meet many new friends and develop lifelong friendships. After a day on the job site, we usually get together for our happy hour and discuss how the day went and our favorite topics of "where have you been and where are you going?"

A group of RV Care-A-Vanners building part of the shed

In response to the need for disaster rebuilding efforts, in the last six years we have trained 98 Care-A-Vanners in Disaster Response, now called our Disaster Rebuild Team. These skilled Care-A-Vanners are uniquely suited to respond to disasters as we come with our own housing, often in short supply after a disaster. We also have a program for long-term skilled volunteers to include our Care-A-Vanner Desk staff (those who run the program) and our Habitat Construction Safety Trainers who are charged with training local affiliate construction personnel in OSHA regulations and Habitat best practices.

Two years ago, our Care-A-Vanners who were Winnebago owners formed the RV Care-A-Vanner Habitat Builders WIT chapter. This group has led the annual shed build at the Winnebago Grand National Rally. This gives Winnebago owners a chance to swing a hammer and see how much fun it can be, and it gives us the opportunity to educate the GNR attendees about Habitat and the RV Care-A-Vanners.

A group of RV Care-A-Vanners lifting up a finished wall

The Heart of Habitat

So, what has driven my husband Dave and I to participate in this program for the last 18 years? It is the passion for the mission of Habitat, that everyone deserves a decent place to live and to end poverty housing around the world. We are given the opportunity to work with others who have like-minded values to give families a hand up, not a handout.

RV Care-A-Vanners standing in a circle talking

I remember a woman for whom we built a house in Louisiana. She was a single mother of four teenagers all living in a single-wide mobile home that was falling apart. With their move into the modest 1,100 square foot Habitat home, the kids got into a much better school system. Mom worked all night in a residence home for disabled adults and worked all day on her house with the Care-A-Vanners. She knew nothing about building when we started the house, but she mastered a number of building skills as the house went up.

Nine months later, after she and the family were all moved in, Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area. Luckily, she was out of the brunt of the storm and her house did fine. She welcomed 20 people into her home, evacuees from New Orleans. She and her children fed them, prayed with them and read from the Bible nightly for three weeks. Now she was giving the hand up to others. This is just one example of why we do what we do. It is for the families. You can change lives by giving that hand up.

Our Winnebago has given us the ability to travel with a purpose, given us purpose in our life and a chance to meet some wonderful people who share our values that everyone deserves a decent place to live.

RV Care-A-Vanners huddled in front of shed  smiling

How You Can Get Involved

If you would like to join the RV Care-A-Vanners, all you need to do is go to our build list, pick a build that fits in your travel plans and sign up. To stay in touch with what is going on with the Care-A-Vanner program, sign up for our monthly newsletter. And if you are a Winnebago owner, consider joining the RV Care-A-Vanner Habitat Builders WIT chapter.

Put a new purpose in your travel with the RV Care-A-Vanners.


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User commented on October 18, 2021 12:20 PM
User commented on October 18, 2021 12:21 PM