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NOMADS travel far, wide to help those in need

 


NOMADS travel far, wide to help those in need

March 2, 2005        

By John Gordon*

FALFURRIAS, Texas (UMNS)—Nomads are, by definition, wanderers. 

But some nomads have a purpose in their wandering: reaching out to help communities and families along the way.

About 1,100 members of the United Methodist Church’s NOMADS (Nomads on a Mission Active in Divine Service) travel across the United States, repairing homes for needy families and doing renovation at churches, schools and community centers. Most are retirees who travel in their recreational vehicles.

“We’re missionaries, of a sort. That’s how we think of ourselves,” says Joanne Smith, a NOMADS member from Valparaiso, Ind.

Smith, 67, is a retired systems analyst for a large steel company. After six years in retirement as a self-described “lady of leisure,” she discovered NOMADS while visiting a church in Mississippi with her husband, Bruce.

They joined immediately and have helped on 29 projects since 1999.  The latest is renovating a home for a family in Falfurrias, a small, impoverished south Texas town hit hard by a hurricane and floods.

“It’s amazing, the number of things you learn,” Joanne Smith says, as she works on new walls in the house.

“Like, my resume grows every year,” she says. “People are amazed. People say, ‘How did you learn how to do drywall?’”

The house is a dream come true for Maria Reyes, who will live there with her husband and two of their children.

“I was working very hard to get this house,” Reyes says. “I appreciate them to do this for my kids and for my family. That’s my dream, a house.”

Each project typically lasts three weeks. The trips mean time away from families and friends, but Smith, a member of Valparaiso First United Methodist Church, enjoys working on the NOMADS projects. 

“Our friends and family think it’s such a major sacrifice,” she says, “and we come home and we don’t feel like we’ve done a major sacrifice. We usually get back more than we’ve given.”

Another member of the Falfurrias team is Don Schoenbein, 69, an Illinois farmer who spends three months during the winter volunteering for NOMADS projects.

“The best thing I like to do is work on homes,” Schoenbein says. “The satisfaction (is) in seeing the people finally having something of their own that’s improved, and just the joy of seeing little kids have a place to have their own room.”

Schoenbein and his wife, Evelyn, are veterans of 58 projects over the last 15 years.

“We just love to see all the joy that it gives to the needy people when they have their homes repaired. It’s a joy,” Evelyn Schoenbein says.

The work is also satisfying for Marshall Neill, a member of Whitehouse (Texas) United Methodist Church, about 100 miles east of Dallas. He joined the NOMADS in 1998.

“We’ve always had a sense of, when we get through, that we’ve helped a single family, in some cases we’ve helped a community,” he says. 

NOMADS members enjoy the fellowship, and many have developed long-lasting friendships.

“We live a sermon before people who see us,” says Don Levens, NOMADS board president. “We do a lot of good, but just think about how much meaning in life we are offering these people, instead of just running up and down the road and playing shuffleboard.”

Money for the materials used on NOMADS projects comes from the group’s fund-raising efforts and contributions from churches and other organizations. The program is part of the denomination’s Volunteers in Mission outreach.

Last year, NOMADS worked on 121 three-week projects from South Carolina to California, according to Levens. Based on $13.50 for each volunteer hour, their work totals $1.6 million in donated labor.

Their average age is 68, and Joanne Smith says some of her friends in the group are nearing 80.

She has no immediate plans to scale back her NOMADS work, but when she does eventually decide to stay closer to home, she hopes other volunteers take her place.

“If it inspires somebody—when they’re asked to do something, they say, ‘Well, those guys were doing it, I could do it’—that’s a good thing,” she says. “I think that’s the biggest difference we could make.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

 

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