You can only spend 14 out of 20 days in a NM state park. It was that time, so I hooked the truck to the back of the motor home and took a short ride from City of Rocks State Park to Las Cruces, NM to join the Care A Vanners, nine other RV’s parked at the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity. Care A Vanners are a subculture of RV’ers who travel around the country with a purpose – to help Habitat build affordable, safe housing for strangers. Care A Vanners can be a strange group – generally, as in Las Cruces, it’s not a group of spring chickens but a group that, with few exceptions, qualify for senior discounts and Medicare. The exceptions in this group were Jake and Angela, a couple in their early 30’s who choose to spend the majority of the year volunteering for Habitat; they work nights and weekends to support themselves and then go home, to regroup financially, by working harder still. There was much cross-generational banner, and the young couple added a different flavor of levity to the group.
As I said, Care A Vanners can be a strange group. And so this gaggle of mostly old people came together for ten days to pound nails. Forming a chorus line of limping, creaking, grunting, and stretching as we tried to work out charley horses, crunchy knees, bad backs, and blown shoulders, we worked HARD, framing, building walls, attaching sheathing, and lifting trusses.
Jake and Angela, the youngest and strongest, volunteered on the roof.
Many days the core group of Care A Vanners was joined by volunteers from the local community.
We also had the great privilege of working alongside several future home owners. What a joy to watch their eyes sparkle as they talked of how excited their kids are! The houses Habitat is building are more than just decent housing – they are homes to be proud of, homes to raise children in.
This Habitat affiliate does not allow nail guns, so we pounded – by hand – every single nail. Actually, we pounded many more nails than were “necessary.” The wood was hard, there were knots, and our aim wasn’t always good. When there were two or three bent nails on the floor for each one securely in the wood, Pete and Dyana, the two supervisors, never complained or criticized – their goal was a quality product, and so they bought lots and lots of nails. When the plates failed to line up flush, we pulled them apart and tried again. When the nails attaching the sheathing missed the studs and flashed “shiners” at us, we pulled them out and began again. We used lots and lots of nails 😉
I hadn’t worked on a Habitat build in seven years, and something strange had happened. Now 70 years old, I’m somehow not as strong and don’t have as much stamina. What?? But my sudden onset of aging wasn’t obvious to the others; they were too busy dealing with their own. So we made bad jokes and took pride in the fact that though we were all given the senior discount without having to ask for it, we weren’t home watching TV, or sitting on a bar stool complaining. As the days went by, each of us hurt somewhere. My “some where’s” generally woke me up for a conversation during the middle of the night. Shooting pains across my upper right shoulder after a particularly long day of hammering, followed by red-hot pain between my right thumb and forefinger – right where I held the hammer. Ice, ibuprofen and wine seem to help. Collectively we went through almost as many ibuprofen as we did nails.
Mesilla Valley Habitat stresses excellent product (let me repeat – they were NOT shy about telling us to pull something apart and begin again), safety, and, yes, FUN. So there was much banter during the work day; those exchanges intensified as we sat around the camp fire after hours and were in high gear in the morning circle. Pete and Dyana were serious if not a bit fanatical about safety 😉 (everyone, always, had to wear a hard hat – period – no exceptions) Eye protection – but no gloves – when using a saw. I consistently added hearing protection to the litany of required safety items, but I’m not sure it was enough, given my significant hearing loss. I have an appointment with an audiologist this week; I hope to learn it’s a reasonable option for me to work other builds, with consistent use of hearing protection. Somehow manual labor – for such an important purpose – is very good for me. Good work with good people for a good cause.
Some of these Care A Vanners will stay at Las Cruces until March. Others will move on, to see the country and aim their RV’s at another Habitat build. Often Care A Vanners provide the backbone (though admittedly an old, creaky bone) for home construction. Mesilla Valley Habitat will build five houses this season, a goal that could not be realized without a cadre of aging gypsies who enjoy working and playing hard.
And Las Cruces does such a good job, there are no available Care A Vanner RV slots for the rest of this build year. But there is always room – and work – for anyone who shows up
For more information see https://www.habitat.org/ https://www.habitat.org/volunteer/travel-and-build/rv-care-a-vanners and