LEGACY BUILD 2014: Volunteers explain why they serve others

One of the things Millard Fuller Legacy Build volunteers often are asked by people here in Louisville is, “You’re doing this for free?”

When the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!”, the questioners respond with everything from “thank you” to baffled head shaking.

Not only are the volunteers working hard all week to restore once-vacant houses into decent homes for families who need a hand up but they also pay for their travel and lodging as well as registration fees that help make the work possible.

We talked this morning with some of the volunteers about what motivated them to come to Louisville for this year’s Legacy Build, including Marian Meyer, who sees this kind of volunteer work as how she and husband Pete plan to spend much of their retirement time.

“We were on a Fuller build in Peru last year, and we enjoyed working with these people,” said Meyer, whose husband is a home builder in Plainview, Minnesota. “So we said we’ve got to get on to another build. We like helping others, and we’ve been so blessed. We’ve got a nice family, and most of them are in construction. So, as soon as the children get old enough, they’ll be out here, too, with us. My husband’s trying to retire, so this is part of the retirement.”

Catherine Gehman came with a group of 14 people from New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ in East Greenville, Pennsylvania.

“This is my first one ever, but I’ve been wanting to do it for a while,” she said. “The opportunity came about, and I’m not in school at the moment, so I figured why not come. It’s tiring, but it’s very rewarding and fulfilling and makes me feel good to paint all this. The family came in last night, and they were so blessed and happy with the progress so far that it makes you feel good about what we’re doing.”

While Gehman and Meyer may be relative newcomers on Fuller Center build sites, Jim Tomascak is a familiar face, having worked on an estimated 40 new homes and 15 rehab projects between Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center since 1997.

“I’m an architect by trade, but this is what I love doing on the weekends,” he said. “I’ve got about three weeks of vacation each year that I donate toward doing blitz projects somewhere. It’s just a great feeling. It feels good to be helping others. ”

Another group of familiar faces at Fuller Center builds are the “Graber boys” — otherwise known as brothers Merle, Eldon and Ray Graber. The Grabers always bring a talented contingent of volunteers to blitz builds, and this year added a newcomer to their roster — brother-in-law Galen Yoder of Phoenix, Arizona, where he works in the air-conditioning business.

“It’s the first one I’ve been to, but Merle and Eldon and Ray do this a lot,” said Yoder, who married the Graber boys’ sister Vera. “It’s a fun thing to do with my extended family. It’s a wonderful thing to see. My background is that you’re taught to help people, to give back and to serve people. It’s completely different stuff from what I normally do, so I’m just trying not to cut my fingers off or something like that.”

Tara Miller is a Virginia native who now lives in Seattle through her work with the United Methodist Church’s US-2 Program, which places young adults in mission service positions with faith-based partner organizations. For Miller, serving others right now is a daily walk.

“I’ve done mission projects before, and it’s always a great experience getting to meet the people you’re helping and then also working on a team,” she said. “It’s what I’ve done all my life. It’s a spiritual thing, but also I think putting yourself in different communities helps you learn a lot and helps you grow. Doing things that you don’t normally do in day-to-day life helps you become a better person.”

Greg Matthews is not a “Graber boy,” but he might as well be. They have been volunteering together on build sites for more than 30 years.

“My retired lifestyle has a huge portion of giving back while I’m still capable, and my background is construction,” said Matthews, who hails from Fayetteville, Arkansas. “I just really believe that everybody should have decent housing. For me, it’s just the right thing to do. I have talent, and this is perfect for what I do to help out. It’s a win-win, and it’s American if you ask me. More than spiritual, I think it’s more political and what humans need to be doing with each other.”


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