Habitat Care-A-Vanner’s Care-A-Lot
By: Emilee Franklin
Care-A-Whats? Care about what? If you don’t know about what a
Care-A-Vanner is or what a Care-A-Vanner does, you are about to care a
For the past two weeks individuals and couples from Hawaii, West
Virginia, South Dakota, South Carolina and Minnesota, among other
places around the country have been our not so quiet neighbors. No,
the authorities have not been called for any loud and crazy parties or
disturbances from this group on Lawler Avenue, in Hinckley.
The noise, instead, has come from the many working hands, friendly
chatter and power tools of the Care-A-Vanners along with local
volunteers helping to build a house through Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) is a nonprofit Christian housing
ministry that has expanded around the world.
In 2014, Habitat impacted over 300,000 families globally,
approximately 1.6 million people. In the United States alone, they
helped out over 10,000 families this past year. The organization
believes every person should have a decent, safe and affordable place
to live. Habitat works in different ways to help create and provide
affordable and decent housing.
Locally, Habitat has had an immense impact in our own community.
Wayne Eller, director of the East Central Minnesota Habitat for
Humanity, is in charge of the five-county area including Pine,
Kanabec, Chisago, Mille Lacs and Isanti. East Central Minnesota
Habitat for Humanity has been around for 21 years and has built 38
houses and counting; three built to be completely handicap accessible
and two rehabilitated houses. Since East Central Habitat began, they
have built/rehabilitated an average of 2-2 1/2 houses on average and
up to four new houses in one year. This year, the only build that is
planned is currently going on in Hinckley.
These Care-A-Vanners, who have helped our community out for these past
two weeks, are not unlike the thousands of other Care-A-Vanners who
travel the country from year to year in their RVs. Care-A-Vanners will
typically volunteer on site for six to seven hours a day for two weeks
with breaks as needed, including a lunch break.
In Hinckley’s case, lunch was provided by churches and other local
organizations free to the volunteers. They start each day with morning
devotion. These people are not paid for their work and, in fact, have
to pay their way to travel from site to site. In East Central
Minnesota, Eller makes sure these volunteers have a place free for
them to park their RVs, with electrical hook-ups. Volunteers said this
isn’t always the case, and that Eller goes out of his way to take care
These Care-A-Vanners have traveled a combined thousands of
miles to give back to a family that prior to the build they did not
even know, in a community that many of them were not familiar with.
Talk about selflessness.
Rick Shaw, of Morgan Town, W.V., would be considered fairly new to the
Care-A-Vanners. He only has three builds under his tool belt.
He said, “It is a privilege working with the other Care-A-Vanners.
They are very admirable and inspiring.” When asked why he volunteers,
Shaw said, “Because it is a little more than writing a check. Every
build I go on I learn a great deal about the genuine need.”
This wasn’t Shaw’s first visit to Minnesota either, when asked how he
felt about Minnesota, he exclaimed that he loved it, especially
camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Northern Minnesota. The
next builds on his radar are 2-3 builds this winter in Florida.
Two of the Care-A-Vanners were from Blaine, Minn., Lowell and Gwen
Larson. Lowell actually grew up in Braham. The pair have been
Care-A-Vanners for 11 years, while helping Habitat for 13 years. They
have traveled to California, Texas, New Mexico, Montana and Louisiana
on builds, for a total of 61 builds through the years.
Gwen says the pair volunteer because they, “Just want to be
contributing something.” They were introduced to Habitat through
Gwen’s brother out in California who is very active in Habitat there.
They both agreed that one of the most rewarding experiences of working
with Habitat is meeting the family that gets the house. The next build
the pair has planned is also in Minnesota, this September in Grand
Originally from Maple Grove, Minn. were Bonnie and John Archer, now of
Sioux Falls, S.D.
For the past eight years, the pair has traveled to Georgia, Florida,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Minnesota and Washington
for a total of around 15 builds. They say that it really motivates
them to work harder and to continue to volunteer when they see the
people’s faces who get the house. The Archers say they volunteer
because “We are able to give back for all of the blessings we’ve had.”
They later added that they also enjoy the Christian fellowship.
Although where they are going next is to be decided, it is clear that
they are definitely not done volunteering.
Harry Fritts, also known as the “Vinyl Man,” from Myrtle
Beach, S.C., was one of the expert builders on site. At 77, he just
cannot seem to stop volunteering. They call him the vinyl man because
prior to volunteering he was in the Vinyl business for about 15 years
and often plays a crucial part when it comes to siding.
Wayne Eller even commented, “Harry is the Best.”
Eller said he goes as far as waiting to arrange the start days of
local builds around Harry’s schedule to make sure that he is able to
be there. This is Fritts’ 13th year of volunteering with Habitat,
contributing to over 150 builds all over the United States and two in
Canada. One hundred-fifty builds, at two weeks a build equals 300
weeks of building, or almost six years of straight volunteering.
In 2012, Fritts was given a plaque for over 100 builds, since then, he
has quit counting. Locally this is Fritts’ eighth time building in our
area for Eller.
Fritts admits that volunteering often comes with a cost and that he
probably spends $5,000-$6,000 a year volunteering, but that “He
wouldn’t do it if he didn’t enjoy it.”
When asked what his most rewarding experience of building is Fritts
said, “Seeing the children picking out their rooms and finally having
a home. You have a soft heart seeing children who have never had
anything.” Fritts admitted that many builds have touched him over the
His current plans are to return back home, 1500 miles away, to relax
for awhile and visit family, but he’s not done yet. He has already
signed up for six builds next winter and spring.
Projects like our local Habitat for Humanity build would
not be possible without these amazing, selfless volunteers both
locally and around the United States.
Currently in our neck of the woods and in Eller’s five county area,
the Hinckley build is the only build scheduled for the year. He has
had as many as four builds in a year in the past. Eller says what’s
difficult is finding qualified families to apply. When Habitat finds
an available lot and opens up applications in any given community any
family who may be interested is encouraged to apply.
How Habitat Works
Each Habitat affiliate selects “partner families” from their area to
become habitat homeowners. The East Central Minnesota Habitat covers
five counties (Pine, Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Isanti, and Chisago). The
organization select families in a nondiscriminatory way, they are
always selected based on their level of need, ability to pay and
willingness to partner.
Applicants must meet certain qualifications to apply, although each
Habitat affiliate has its own guidelines. In general, prospective
homeowners must, be citizens or legal residents, have a steady income,
good credit, sustain a savings account over a specified period of
time, and earn a monthly income that falls within the minimum and
maximum limits, depending on household size.
In addition to meeting those qualifications, applicants must invest
sweat-equity into their own home. Sweat-equity hours are hours spent
by the house recipient and their family working on the house they will
receive. Other qualifications include being able to make affordable
down payments, timely mortgage payments and attend homeowner education
When Habitat obtains a lot in any given community they open it up to
applications. If you would like more information about the housing
process, or how to volunteer you can either call to inquire
1-800-600-0288, or visit
the www.ecmhabitat.com website.