George and Diane Gravlee have made it their mission to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in every state, and they recently built with Sussex County Habitat for Humanity making Delaware their 49th state.
George and Diane Gravlee have made it their mission to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in every state.
After 21 years of working to meet that goal, the couple finally arrived in Delaware, their 49th state, on Sept. 24, when they were officially welcomed to the First State during reception at Bethany Blues in Lewes.
The Gravlees will stay in the county through next week while they work on local construction projects undertaken by Sussex County Habitat for Humanity (SCHFH).
“They have a super group of young people here,” George Gravlee said after working with SCHFH’s 11 Americorps volunteers for a week. “They’re very dedicated and put in a lot of hours.”
The Gravlees are members of a national Habitat for Humanity volunteer program called Care-a-Vanners, in which participants travel across the country in their RVs to assist local Habitat affiliates in need of additional help.
Currently, the Care-a-Vanners program is made up of about 600 active rigs and 1,100 participants. This year alone, there are about 170 requests from nationwide Habitat affiliates for assistance from Care-A-Vanners, according to Habitat officials.
The Gravlees said they were simply looking for something to do after retirement when they began participating in the program with their first build in Kauai, Hawaii in 1993.
“Then we decided we didn’t want to come home,” George said.
“Habitat gives us a purpose to our travel,” Diane added. “When we got to 30 states we realized we might be able to get another 20, so we figured we try it and here we are.”
During their travels, the Gravlees have contributed to a total of 135 builds with 91 different affiliates across the country.
They plan meet their 50-state goal next summer when they visit North Dakota.
While in Sussex County, the Gravelees have traveled to various projects, including homes in Laurel and Georgetown, which SCHFH said is among 41 new home and repair projects the affiliate will complete this year, according to Kristin Bainger, the organization’s community engagement director.
“They are building really nice homes here – well thought out, very comfortable,” George said.
Typically, Care-a-Vanners are requested by local affiates because there is a need for volunteers. But in this case, the Gravlees reached out to SCHFH in the hopes of crossing Delaware off their list, following a previous stay in Easton, Md.
Despite having amassed so much home-building experience over the past two decades, the Gravlees had never done any construction prior to their involvement with Habitat for Humanity. George worked as a hydrologist, while Diane worked as a school librarian. They said they learned all the skills they needed while working on various building sites.
“Building a house is not rocket science,” George said. “It’s a lot of little tasks. And you learn one task after another and then you will get a house.”
The Gravlees own a small home in South Carolina, but spend most of their time traveling in their 35-foot RV.
“When we started, we originally said we were going to spend one-third of the time building, one-third sight-seeing and one-third of the time visiting friends and family,” Diane said. “And for the most part, that is still true.”
While in Delaware, the couple hopes to visit the beach because, they said, they’re not certain if they’ll ever return to the First State.
“We have seen that we don’t usually return to an affiliate after a Care-a-Vanner build, unless they are really struggling with volunteers, because people feel this sense of duty to step up when they see visitors from out of state do work in their own community,” George said.
But a return trip isn’t out of the question. The Gravlees said that they don’t intend to finish their journey any time soon, with their next build slated for January in New Mexico.
“When we started this, it was sort of a calling,” George said. "And we said we will keep doing this depending on our health and our resources.”