The RV industry may be the foundation of Elkhart County’s economy, but a group of RV enthusiasts across the country is having an even more immediate philanthropic effect in some areas.
They’re called Care-A-Vanners. They travel around the United States and Canada to help local Habitat for Humanity affiliates build hundreds of homes each year, a small group of which arrived in Elkhart to work on a Habitat for Humanity build on Erwin St.
Diane and George Gravlee are among the group of Care-A-Vanners camping out at the Elkhart County 4-H fairgrounds. For the past 20 years they’ve been on the road traveling to different construction sites.
“People at home didn't understand this lifestyle,” said Diane as she sat in her 300 square-foot RV. Both she and her husband describe what they do as a “mission to help God’s people.”
Care-A-Van volunteers offer their labor free of charge, only accepting t-shirts and meals as payment. Over the years the Gravlees received so many shirts from different construction sites that the only thing they could think to do with them was sew them into quilts.
Both Diane and George are retired and chose to spend the time in between builds visiting their grandchildren.
But not all Care-A-Vanners are retirees. Take Lisa Crawford, who ended her military career and decided to live full-time in an RV. Crawford said after a few months on the road she became bored, and remembered meeting Care-A-Vanners she met on previous Habitat builds.
“I needed to have some kind of purpose in my life” said Crawford. She tries to work primarily at disaster relief sites. Prior going to Elkhart Crawford was helping rehabilitate homes damaged in Toms River, New Jersey that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy more than nine months ago.
Crawford also built homes in Tuscaloosa after tornadoes devastated the area. One of the homeowners Crawford worked alongside called her after moving into his new home and told her, “this is your house. If you ever come back to Tuscaloosa, this is where you’re going to say.”
Care-A-Vanners, like local Habitat for Humanity volunteers see their hard work come to fruition. In Elkhart, the time volunteers put in is matched by future homeowners like Nicole. Nicole and her family will move into the Erwin St. home being worked on.
“It means so much to me because they didn’t have to come,” said Nicole. Nicole was brought to tears Friday when she found out the grant money sponsoring her house came from the Elkhart County Community Fund.