Retirees find purpose, fulfillment as NOMADS

10/7/2014

There’s camping. And then there’s glamping. But what is workamping?

Though they call Gray, Ga. home, Kay and Scott Wangen spend much of their retirement living in their other “home” – a luxurious 40-foot Fleetwood Revolution motor home they bought two years ago. They enjoy touring and exploring the United States, seeing new sights, and meeting new people; last year they spent three-and-a-half months in it as they traveled from Georgia to Alaska and back. 

But for the Wangens, who are members of Macon’s Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, traveling isn’t just about visiting new venues – it’s an opportunity to serve and help others.

Retirement with a purpose

They are a relatively new breed of retirees, those who are not content to play a few rounds of golf, sit on a beach, or spend their retirement years gardening or sewing. The Wangens are “workampers,” – work campers – or, more accurately perhaps, “volu-campers,” since the only payment they receive for their labor is access to an RV hookup.

Wanting to travel and use their motor home often but desiring to do more than just sightsee, the Wangens discovered NOMADS, a group of mostly retired RV-owners who tour the country and volunteer their time and talents to help United Methodist churches, camps, and agencies.

“A lot of people retire and look at each other and say, ‘now what?’ They don’t have a plan,” Scott Wangen said. “They watch television or work in the yard a little bit. This really gave us the opportunity to do something and have a reason for living, a reason for getting up in the morning.”

A General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) organization, NOMADS was formed in 1988 and has a membership of more than 1,100 volunteers representing 44 states and two Canadian provinces.

Members search and sign up for projects online (www.nomadsumc.org) based on where they want to go and what they want to do. Most projects are three weeks long and include construction, remodeling, and repairs for churches, children’s homes, camps, colleges, outreach missions and disaster rebuilding. Team members do maintenance, cleaning, painting, electrical, drywall, sewing, flooring, and more. NOMADS also serve shorter one-week stints at disaster-relief sites.

Today the Wangens are in Lake Junaluska, N.C.

They and 13 other NOMAD members – six other couples and a single woman – are doing light carpentry work, painting, fixing furniture, and landscaping at the United Methodist conference and retreat center.

“I feel kind of guilty saying Lake Junaluska in the same sentence with mission trip,” said Kay Wangen. “People look at me kind of funny! The notion of spending three weeks here and calling it a mission trip is ludicrous; it’s so beautiful and the people are so nice.”

Their three weeks in North Carolina won’t be all work and no play. They’ll wake early and share a morning devotion before working for about six hours. And during their two long weekend breaks they’ll explore nearby Asheville.

For the Wangens, being a part of NOMADS is fulfilling and fun.

“We really enjoy using our motorhome and we are blessed to both be retired,” Kay Wangen said. “We wanted to use it and our time for the glory of God. This way we can combine our passion for traveling and meeting new people with service.”

Locally, the Wangens have helped Wesley Glen install RV hookups on their campus. Once complete, the ministry will be able to accommodate NOMADS groups. The Methodist Home for Children and Youth’s Macon campus has eight full RV hookups and hosts NOMADS groups a couple of times a year.

While the Wangens will likely never live in their motor home full time – they are too attached to their children, grandchildren and church family – they plan to be workcampers for years to come.

“We are both committed to being obedient … and to doing whatever we can to make the world around us a little bit better place,” Kay Wangen said. “We may have 20 more years to do things, so it’s not time for us to kick back and quit.”