When Billie Paul and Kathleen Mills' house caught fire in December, the couple stood with their property on 730 Road for hours, watching as flames engulfed their house, barn, and vehicle.

By the time the blaze was extinguished, only a shell of the Mills home remained. However, their misfortune continued. Late that evening, the house reignited into an orange ball of fire, with flames whipping 30-40 feet into the air.

All the fire departments "could do was just sit there and watch it," said Kathleen Mills. Afterward, the couple wasn't sure what would be the next move.

"What do you do," asked Mills. "Your whole life has just burned up in front of you. I had no clue."

Fortunately, the people who work with Habitat for Humanity are accustomed to crisis situations. On Feb. 19, construction on a new house for the Mills began when volunteers from RV Care-A-Vanners and Habitat AmeriCorps came to the rescue.

"They told us we could possibly qualify for a Habitat house, and that they were looking for a project," said Mills. "It was just fast track after that."

Billie Paul and Kathleen each received $30 gift certificates to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Rack, and $30 worth of household items. While the couple has stayed in hotels and an apartment since being displaced, the volunteers have been busy putting up walls for a new 1,000-square foot home.

"Blessings come in odd packages sometimes," said Mills. "So Habitat said, 'We'll build you a house. It's only going to be about 1,000 square feet. We were like, 'We don't need more than 1,000 square feet. We had twice as much room as we needed anyway and this is perfect for us. It just couldn't have worked out better. It's strange, but it really has been nothing short of amazing."

Completion of construction is expected sometime in April.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers are scattered throughout the country, building new homes for people. Fred and Sharon Winslow were the co-team leaders of the RV Care-A-Vanners on the construction site Friday. The couple has helped build 12 homes, traveling to different states across the country for new projects, some of which require more work than others.

"When you step in, sometimes you arrive and part of it is done," said Fred Winslow. "So we plug in and do the interior work, but this one only had a blank slab when we arrived. Honestly, our people like that. They like swinging a hammer and learning how to build."

Each Habitat project has a supervisor leading the volunteers. The supervisor instructs where to hammer each nail and where to cut each support beam - but when it comes time for labor, volunteers like to take it from there.

"I've had a good life and I just wanted to give back," said Sharon Winslow. "It makes you feel good and I've had it really easy, so I figured it's the least I can do."

For the RV Care-A-Vanners, volunteering is an opportunity to travel, get hands dirty and be a part of helping others. It helps that they bring their homes along.

"We have plenty of time, and since we live in our RV, we can park it anywhere," said Holly Flagg. "Since we're retired, we wanted to find a way to help others, and we thought this was a good way to do it."

Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Linda Cheatham said Habitat homes aren't free. The homeowner must meet income guidelines, are charged the cost of building materials, and must pay back a mortgage.

Overall, the Habitat for Humanity program does something for everyone involved. The property owners receive a new home and volunteers get to help people who need a helping hand.

"There's a thousand things that you end up just loving about it," said Winslow. "It's hard work, but when you go to bed at night you think, 'I did something good today.'"

Those wanting to volunteer or donate can call Habitat for Humanity at 918-453-1332 or write to habitat-tahlequah@att.net.

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