Have RV, will travel for Habitat: Freeport is 46th notch on couple's tool belt

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FREEPORT — For two people who have been living in a motor home for the past two decades, Diane and George Gravlee sure like to build houses for other people.

“We’re living in 300 square feet, but building simple, 1,300-square-foot homes for others,” Diane Gravlee said last week.

Diane and George Gravlee, ages 71 and 74 respectively, have been traveling across the country in a recreation vehicle on a mission to work with Habitat for Humanity in every state. Last week, they checked Maine off their list as their 46th state.

The Gravlees work through a Habitat program called Care-A-Vanner. Although Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland doesn’t have a Care-A-Vanner program, the couple decided to come anyway.

“There was no way we’d get all the states checked off unless we just said we were coming,” Diane Gravlee said.

Laura Duplissis, Habitat volunteer and communications manager, said the Gravlees inspired the other workers and that it was helpful to have them at the Hummingbird Lane build site. The Gravlees were in Freeport from July 21-30.

“Beyond the fact that they’re really experienced, it’s a great experience for us to hear their stories,” Duplissis said.

The Gravlees definitely have acquired some stories during their 21 years of service.

The pair’s first build was in 1993 in Hawaii, although it wasn’t connected to Care-A-Vanner. They said they arrived hoping to have a vacation while also doing some volunteer work, and ended up falling in love with Habitat.

“We had a great time and decided this is what we’d do when we retired,” George Gravlee said.

After finding Care-A-Vanner, they decided to make it their mission to work in all 50 states. They hope to be done next year.

Prior to retirement, Diane was a librarian and George was a hydrologist. They said working with Habitat has given them new skills.

“We’ve learned how to build a house,” Diane Gravlee said. “We couldn’t do that before.”

But the Gravlees also said they’ve gotten a lot more than carpentry skills out of the experience.

“People say it’s a sacrifice; it’s not a sacrifice,” Diane Gravlee said. “We’re getting more out of this than we’re actually giving. At least that’s how we think about it.”

They said they enjoy connecting with families and being able to help provide them with a home.

“It’s the kids that it has an impact on us more than the adults,” George Gravlee said. “It molds their futures.”

The Gravlees have also worked on some build sites multiple times. Although they’ve now been to 46 states, Freeport was their 135th stop.

Duplissis said she and the others at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland are glad the Gravlees chose to visit Freeport.

“It’s nice to be part of their mission,” she said.

The Gravlees said living out of an RV is no different than living in a house and while traveling they go to local grocery stores, post offices, laundry centers, and churches.

The Gravlees have a permanent home in South Carolina, where they live for about three months each year. They said they usually head home for fall and early winter.

After Freeport, the Gravlees are headed to New Hampshire. In September they will check off Maryland and Delaware. Last on their list is North Dakota, which they hope to visit next summer.

Once they have been to all 50 states, their mission will be complete, but Diane said it won’t be the end of their work with Habitat.

“Someone asked if then we’ll stop doing this,” she said, “and the answer is no.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

Maine was the 46th state George, left, and Diane Gravlee visited as part of their journey to build homes all across the country for Habitat for Humanity.

The Gravlees decided to stay in Freeport for a week and a half because they didn’t want off days before going to work in New Hampshire.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.