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Taking America on the road

Posted: August 27, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 27, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Kayla Hodson, 17, hauls sand at a Habitat for Humanity construction site in Buenos Aires.

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There are many ways in which seniors keep themselves active and “plugged in,” but Valencia resident Molly Hodson, 70, seems to be taking things about as far as they can go. A Habitat for Humanity team leader for 17 years, she recently returned from yet another Habitat for Humanity homebuilding trip, this time to Buenos Aires, Argentina — where she led a group of 13 volunteers, including her granddaughter, Kayla Hodson, 17, a Hart High School senior.

The group worked on three houses during the week they were there, and participants ranged in age from 17 to 73. The development where they worked was located behind one of the city dumps and housing was very basic.

Hodson said Argentina uses a “seed house” concept. Initially, houses consist of a kitchen/living room, bathroom and one bedroom. The house design allows for future additions, as the homeowner accumulates money for adding on.

Habitat work starts with digging and laying a foundation, and then constructing walls, roofs, and interiors.

Hodson has been on Habitat for Humanity trips to other countries as well. “I’ve made 12 or 14 trips,” she said. “And now I’m trying to do two a year.”

She said she first got connected with Habitat for Humanity in the San Fernando Valley in 1995. “I was looking for something meaningful to do,” she said. “I got appointed to the board of directors right away and signed up for a trip to Guatemala.” But that trip’s leader was unable to make it in the end. “They asked me to lead it,” Hodson said. “So I got started at the top.”

That homebuilding trip, to San Lucas Toliman, hooked Hodson. “I liked it so much I went back there five times,” she said.

Hodson said she is able to make these trips because she is a real estate broker (“basically-retired” now) and makes sure any firm she works for understands she will be traveling. “I tell them I will disappear for two to three weeks in the summer,” she said.

Hodson explained that the volunteers “mostly supply labor” and work with local construction methods, which often include mixing cement in the ground, rather than in a cement mixer. But this added, motivated, free labor greatly speeds up construction time for a family’s home.

“The local people work six days a week, and without the volunteers they would have to do the construction in little bits, when they can find time,” Hodson said. “What we can do in four days it would take them several months to accomplish.”

She added that what the volunteers do is far more than just help build homes.

“It’s 50 percent doing good, and 50 percent building a cultural bridge with the people,” she said. “Some of these people have never seen an American. We are trying to build liaisons, friendships. We are taking America on the road in a positive sense.”

As far as the volunteers go, Hodson said, “You are going to work, and you have to pay for it, too.” That’s because the volunteers each pay between $1,300 and $1,500 to go on a Habitat for Humanity trip, which includes a $450 direct donation to the building fund for that country. And the volunteers also have to provide their own airfare.

But it’s all more than worth it, according to Hodson. First, there is the satisfaction you get from doing something really positive with a group of like-minded people. Beyond that, the locals are very appreciative and long-lasting friendships are often created with them. And finally, since about half the time spent in a foreign country can be time free to travel, “You get to see a side of a country you wouldn’t at Club Med,” she said.

And there is an added plus for Hodson when her granddaughter accompanies her on a trip, as she will next year to Nicaragua.

“It’s a special bonding opportunity for us,” she said. But then she teased, “Now she’s hooked, and it costs me twice as much.”

And, personally, Molly Hodson said these trips keep her “out and involved.”

“It gives me goose bumps that I can do this for my fellow man. I just have a really good time,” she said.

Hodson’s next Habitat for Humanity trip will be in October, to Honduras. “We really would like some more local volunteers,” Hodson said. “They need to be 18 if going by themselves, or 16 or 17 if going with a parent or grandparent.” Those interested can contact her at 661-259-2547 or email molly_hodson@sbcglobal.net.

jwalker@the-signal.com

661-287-5524

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