For 27 years, Gerry and Carolyn Keener have traveled across the U.S. and around the world building homes as Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
These days, Gerry Keener leads a team of snowbirds from Rincon Country West RV Resort in Tucson, Ariz., who build houses that are sold to low-income area families that could never qualify for conventional financing.
Families who purchase Habitat for Humanity homes have to draw a regular income and every adult in each household must invest at least 200 hours of “sweat equity” helping to build future homes.
“One of the blessings of the Habitat program is that families buying their home assume a no interest mortgage and their monthly payments will not exceed a third of their income each month,” Gerry Keener said.
Money for Habitat for Humanity projects comes from donations from individuals, businesses, corporations and in-kind donations as well as the money that homeowners pay for their homes which is recycled into the future homes.
Last winter, 38 volunteers from Rincon Country West RV Resort helped build 14 new Habitat for Humanity homes in the Tucson area. “We didn’t do all of it,” Keener said. “But our hands were involved in 14 different houses. This year, 13 houses are under construction.”
The men and women depart from Rincon Country West every Thursday during the winter months to work on the Habitat for Humanity projects. “In the morning, there is a list of things that need to be done and our volunteers choose where they want to work. Some people in our crew have been doing it as long as 14 years,” Keener said.
Keener said volunteering can be very empowering for snowbirds because the experienced builders and painters are paired with less-experienced volunteers so they can learn new skills. The projects involve everything from framing to caulking and painting to digging ditches.
Carolyn Keener said some snowbirds specifically come to Rincon Country West each winter so they can be part of the resort’s Habitat for Humanity team. The Keeners said they derive great personal satisfaction from being involved in Habitat for Humanity projects.
“We want to be part of the community and not just stay confined behind the security gate,” Carolyn Keener said. “This is our way of giving back to the community.”
The Keeners are from Eugene, Ore., but have been spending their winters at Rincon Country West RV Resort for the past 18 years. They started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Eugene in 1990, but their passion for building homes eventually led them to work on projects around the world, including South Korea and the Philippines, where they worked with former President Jimmy Carter.
“We were able to retire early and we knew we just didn’t want to sit around and do nothing,” Carolyn Keener said, adding “working with Habitat for Humanity has been a very rewarding retirement.”