Today’s post is 1200 words, 27 photos, a 6 minute read. Enjoy!
This week I begin a series of posts from our time camping and volunteering in West Central Minnesota. For two weeks in mid-September, my Traveling Partner and I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota headquartered in Willmar. I’ve written about our volunteer efforts with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, click here to see that post from three years ago.
Our volunteer gig at Willmar came about after we signed up for Habitat’s RV Care-A-Vanners. This program is for anyone that travels in a RV and would like to combine RVing with building affordable housing. Local affiliates, like Willmar, sign up to participate in the Care-A-Vanner program and advertise their build on the Habitat website. There are locations all over the country, some fill up fast especially those in the warmer climates in the winter and the cooler places in the summer. Several locations in Florida for disaster relief were recently added to the website. Those folks will need housing and building assistance for the foreseeable future.
For the past couple of years, we talked about participating in Care-A-Vanners and were moved to action when we saw some locations relatively close by. In other words, easy places to reach within a days drive of Madison. We selected Willmar, Minnesota from the list and signed up for a two week hitch with the West Central Minnesota affiliate. My Traveling Partner and I were the only volunteers to sign up for the four slots they had open. We didn’t mind being the only Care-A-Vanner volunteers, we were willing to do anything they asked of us. So we hitched up the Minnie to the Red Rover and drove 360 miles to Kandiyohi County where we would spend two weeks helping out and getting to know the area.
The Habitat Staff
The office of Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota is located just north of Willmar, a city of about 21,000 residents. The surrounding area is mainly agricultural with corn, soybeans, livestocks and turkeys as the main commodities. Kandiyohi County is also home to several large lakes so tourism, sport fishing, and boating are key drivers of the economy especially in the warm months of the year. More on that in a future blog post.
Habitat recently moved to their new location a couple miles north of Willmar along Highway 71. Previously they were located in downtown Willmar. Since their new building is smaller than the one they moved from, they are still getting settled in this remodeled building.
Our main contact at Habitat in Willmar was Marybeth Nelson, Executive Director. We found her to be helpful, flexible, engaging, and attentive to our needs during our volunteer time. We enjoyed working with her and appreciate her willingness to host two green Care-A-Vanners.
A short walk down the hall from Marybeth’s office is Greg Brandt, Operations Manager. Greg came on staff just two months ago eager to learn as much as he could about the business side of Habitat. He helped make our stay very pleasurable.
The ReStore is an important part of raising funds for building and remodeling homes for needy families. New and used donated home furnishings, building supplies, paint, tools, and more are on sale for a reasonable price at the ReStore.
During our volunteer time in Willmar, my Traveling Partner and I helped out in the ReStore. Our jobs were mostly cleaning donated furniture and organizing materials from their recent move. We got to know the ReStore Manager, Chris Radel (top photo) and Assistant Manager, Zac Albert (second photo). They were fun and easy to work with, we enjoyed getting to know them.
Meet Pix, short for Pixie. She works very part-time in the store. She does a great job of customer service by welcoming everyone as they enter the store. Pix also assembles donated new light fixtures so customers don’t have to. A joy to be around.
Meet Jim, a regular ReStore volunteer. He cleans and repairs donated home furnishings and helps customers unload donations at the warehouse. A friendly, personable fellow.
The Build Site
When we arrived for our two weeks of volunteering, we were informed that the house they are building was running behind schedule. Supply chain issues and availability of subcontractors caused the delays. The Monday of our arrival, a subcontractor began installing the trusses, decking, and shingles. Due to liability concerns, volunteers are not allowed on the roof.
As part of my volunteer time, I photographed the progress on the house. In the photos below, the sub is working on the roofing. This crew of three worked together like a well-oiled machine. The fellow in the yellow shirt was the gofer, fetching supplies and running the man lift. I could tell the two guys on the roof had worked together for a long while. By the end of the week, this phase of the project was completed.
On Friday of our first week, the regular volunteer builders were back on the build site. From what I can tell, there are about fifteen regulars that show up three mornings a week to work on the project. Some have extensive construction experience while others are willing learners and helpers. They welcome volunteers of all skill levels, including me. I have very little building experience beyond writing checks for someone else to do the work! I pitched in moving the scaffolding and helped to installing the soffits and fascia. I performed other tasks as needed including picking up trash so it wouldn’t blow around the neighborhood.
This is Gene VanderEinde, the part-time Construction Manager. He works along side the builders and is the final decision-maker when issues arise.
The builders arrive onsite around 7:30 AM and work until Noon. They take a coffee break at about 9:30. During the break there’s a good buzz of conversation going on. Topic include the weather, football, community activities, and jokes. A fun group to be around.
On my last day at the build site, I asked the group to pose for a photo before they left for the day. This is a hard working group of guys.
The Future Homeowner
On the last day of our volunteer stay, we met Zaida and her two children, the recipients of the current build. Zaida is looking forward to owning her own home and appreciates all the effort that is going into building the house for her family.
My Traveling Partner spent most of her volunteer time baking treats for the volunteer builders. She baked a variety of cookies and breads, most was frozen for future use. The builders told her she would be missed!
Dinner with Jo
On our first day, we met Jo, a Habitat board member. She’s a retired RN and is busy volunteering for community organizations. She invited us to the weekly walleye dinner at the American Legion Club in New London. We had a delightful time getting to know Jo and her daughter Brenda.
Lest you think we did nothing but work during our time in Willmar, we didn’t. We had plenty of time to explore the area. You’ll see more in the next few weeks.
Until next week, happy travels!