Hands across America
By MAKAYLA TENDALL
While they help build and repair houses, John and Linda Coldiron live in an RV.
Every summer, the Arizona natives travel across the nation as part of the Habitat for Humanity RV Care-A-Vanners to build or work on job sites for two weeks at a time.
During a four-week run of sites in Iowa, the Coldirons came to Jefferson last week to work on the exterior of a house on Vine Street.
“We got to thinking about retirement, and I wanted to travel. That was my goal, to see the United States,” Linda said. “But I know us, and we needed something to do while we were seeing the United States.”
The Coldirons arrive to town in “rigs,” or RVs that they camp at local campgrounds or parks during the build. The couple usually arrives with a brigade of volunteers in RVs, rolling into town like a Red Cross relief group full of retirees.
Through the Habitat for Humanity website, John and Linda choose from a list of sites across the nation. They pay travel expenses, including gas and park fare, but that hasn’t stopped them from going to places as far away as Kentucky to help rebuild homes after a tornado demolished a town.
The Coldirons said the trip to Kentucky was one of the most rewarding they had taken because they were able to help those who desperately needed it.
“We have felt very fortunate in our life. We don’t have a lot of money, but we do have time and some talent and ability to give back. That’s what it is all about for us,” Linda said.
“It’s fun talking to the kids that are getting their first bedroom,” John added.
Habitat’s Helping Hands program in Jefferson and Boone allowed the couple to work on the exterior of the home on Vine, making it handicap accessible and replacing wood on the outside of the house.
The Helping Hands program was started by Jefferson’s Gary Von Ahsen and Boone’s Erich Kretzinger, a Jefferson native who serves as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Boone and Greene Counties.
“We strictly work on the exterior of homes and limit the amount of work to $5,000 or less. We’re just trying to help people who can’t help themselves,” Von Ahsen said.
By working on the exteriors and not building from scratch, Helping Hands volunteers are able to help more families revitalize their homes, averaging about four to five homes a summer.
Applicants for Helping Hands are picked for a variety of reasons, one being the ability to afford the renovation. Homeowners must pay for the supplies, for which they can take out a loan with Helping Hands and get on a payment plan.
Volunteers come from Habitat for Humanity, Von Ahsen said, but many come from local churches and community businesses and organizations such as Wells Fargo, Kiwanis and the Rotary Club. Von Ahsen said many church members sign up for at least two weekends a summer.
As for construction know-how, John Coldiron said you learn as you go.
Volunteers simply need to fill out an application, and there are usually site supervisors at every location, Von Ahsen said.
Helping Hands is also looking to purchase another home in Jefferson where they can overhaul everything but the foundation. The group has completed one such home in Jefferson, but they are waiting for a buyer to invest in the house and move into it once renovated.
The homeowners are not the only ones that notice the volunteers’ hard work.
Von Ahsen said one Jefferson resident saw the name of the program on a sign while the Coldirons worked on the Vine Street house.
The person then dropped a check off at the Habitat office in Boone, helping pay for the project.