By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
JOPLIN, Mo. —
As the frame at 2630 S. Wall Ave. began to look less like a skeleton and more like a home, volunteer Norm Clearfield paused from hammering to tally on his fingers the number of countries in which he’s helped to build.
“There was China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mongolia, and then the next major one will be Vietnam,” said Clearfield, a Chicago resident and computer systems specialist by trade.
For the past 10 years, he has been affiliated with Thrivent Builds, first as a volunteer and more recently as a paid member of the staff. In that time, he put enough miles on his work boots to warrant retiring them a few weeks ago.
“It was an emotional moment; they’ve been on all my trips — 100,000 miles,” he said.
After a church trip to a Habitat for Humanity build in Alaska in 2006, Clearfield was hooked.
“I ended up in Americus, Ga., coordinating trips like this one,” he said.
In China, he helped build an apartment complex after the May 2008 earthquake destroyed a million homes. In Ethiopia, he finished four, and in Guatemala, his team would complete three after the catastrophic mudslide of 2010. In Mongolia, the project was 20 homes, while in Haiti, he was part of an advance team for a project that ultimately would complete 100 homes in one week. And in 2013, he’ll be among a group of 60 to travel to Vietnam for a blitz build — 35 homes in one week.
“You can do your tiny little bit to make the world a better place,” he said. “When you make that connection, you’re saying, ‘We care about you enough to come from all over the U.S. to help.’”
Thrivent’s work on the Habitat for Humanity home at 2630 S. Wall won’t be its last in Joplin; the group has planned 15 return trips in 2013. A one-week build requires a team donation of $8,000; a weekend build requires $4,000.
Clearfield said his trip to Joplin left him in awe.
“I sit at a desk a lot of the time,” he said of his “day job.” “You lose the people connection, sometimes. It’s so powerful to come here and to hear people tell their story.”
And he got much more out of the experience than he believes he gave.
“It’s such a testimony to the spirit of people. You keep hearing that word, and for me that’s a key word. If we don’t feel like we’re all in life together, then what’s the point? You will never know what that one small act of kindness is worth.”