Habitat for Humanity volunteer couple drive to Florida


For the past several years, retired couple Ann Laberge and Jon Hodgkin have packed their Honda Element with camping gear and hit the road on Labor Day.

For the next few months, they spend their time traveling throughout the United States. While seeing the sights, they also volunteer with Habitat for Humanity along the way.

So far this year, they have volunteered at Habitat affiliates in Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona and Texas.

"The trips are a bonding time for us," Ms. Laberge said. "We sleep in the back of our car when there are no camp sites available and you really have to work together to make that happen."

The couple describes parts of their trip as "constant problem solving and discovery."

One of their problems has been avoiding stiffness when driving thousands of miles.

"We stop every two hours and throw a Frisbee," Hodgkin said.

"That way, if anything ever happens to us and the police investigate, people will say, ‘Oh yeah, we remember that couple,'" Ms. Laberge said.

For the past two weeks, the two have volunteered in Tyler at the Smith County Habitat for Humanity.

The couple has been busy working in the organization's construction shop and warehouse as well as working on the job site painting.

"I can be as fastidious as I want to be when I'm painting the trim since I'm not being paid by the hour," Ms. Laberge said. "I paint the way I would paint my own home."

The couple married in 1995 and live in Essex Junction, Vermont. Before retiring, Ms. Laberge was a nurse and Hodgkin was a consulting engineer working in developing countries in the area of water and sanitation.

"We won't be physically able to do this 20 years from now," Hodgkin said as he painted the exterior of Smith County Habitat's newest home, which is under construction on North Spring Avenue.

"What Jon and Ann are doing now is making an investment in people's lives," Deanna Harrison, Smith County Habitat development director, said. "And the investment they are making today will still be reaping dividends 20 years from now when they are unable to do the physical work."

From Tyler, the couple will drive to Florida where they will volunteer with the Habitat affiliate in Fernandina Beach.

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