From September 15-22 of 2018, Habitat Colorado board member Mary Sorensen and other Habitat volunteers had the opportunity to travel to Budapest, Hungary to help build a home for a family in need. Mary and fellow volunteer Clair Marie Huber  were gracious enough to share their experience on building strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter. 

On September 15, 2018, an eager group of 16 individuals, led by Julia Thontlin of New London, Wisconsin joined together to volunteer in and explore Budapest, Hungary as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program.

For those not familiar with Global Village, Habitat for Humanity’s website describes it best: “Global Village is your gateway to serving with Habitat for Humanity in more than 40 countries abroad, as well as in the United States.”   The program provides the opportunity to help with housing needs while working alongside the local people. Getting to know people from around the world from various backgrounds and walks of life is a key part of what makes the initiative so fun and rewarding.

On this trip, Habitat for Humanity Hungary tasked the team with the installation of external thermal insulation on a transitional shelter building for families just outside the Budapest city limits.  The shelter houses 90 families who are working towards being able to move into their own apartments. The organization started working on the insulation project in August. The goal of the project is to help the shelter save on heating during the cold winter. The savings will be used to renovate affordable apartment homes for the families as their work, family, and financial situations stabilize, and they are able to move out of the shelter!

Day One: We Start Having Some Fun
September 17, 2018

With a group of 16 plus a few local construction professionals — many who haven’t previously met — we don’t yet know how well a team will gel. This group, however, gelled quickly, leading to impressive results on the first day!

The day began with thought-provoking reflections. Rick of Eugene, Oregon, a Thrivent Financial employee and Habitat construction veteran, asked us what we expect from this experience. Then his wife, Sue, encouraged us to let our light shine as individuals and as a team. After a quick safety presentation from the local Habitat Hungary staff, we jumped in.

In just one day, we completed the first layer of insulation on an entire wall — far more than the local affiliate staff expected.

What worked?

  • Everyone talked to each other and asked questions without hesitation.
  • Build veterans were happy to share their knowledge with less experienced folks.
  • Renata, the local coordinator, and her construction management team, provided great training and support.
  • Weather was hugely favorable — mid-70s (F) and dry.  Much time was spent in the shade, making construction much easier than anticipated.
  • Most importantly, everyone displayed a can-do attitude and had fun.

Bottom Left: Dorin of Naples, Fl., and Patrick of Olympia, Washington, have fun prepping the insulation with adhesive.

Day Two: Soaring to New Heights
September 18, 2018

The Habitat Global Village team in Budapest, Hungary, continued to install the insulation as they had on Day 1 — with a new challenge. One smaller team of five began installing insulation on the back exterior wall of the shelter, next to a factory. (Sidebar: The employees there listen to Bob Marley while working – just like we Americans sometimes do!)

Other team members continued installing insulation on the first wall, adding finishing touches to the first layer by sanding, securing and patching it. One team member noted in her team journal entry”We are given many different gifts. When we put all these beautiful gifts together, we can do amazing things!”  Indeed.

Other thoughts

Sometimes we don’t always think about the end result – just what steps we must complete now. Habitat for Humanity Global Village projects have lasting, positive effects for the families who live in a Habitat built or restored homes, and for their surrounding communities.

Day Three: A Short but Sweet One
September 19, 2018

Today the Habitat for Humanity team in Budapest, Hungary, had only a half day of work, but left the shelter will full hearts.  Some team members met with families in the shelter and learned more about the program there.

One of the employees at the shelter, Gabor, talked to all team members about some of the shelter’s success stories. One that particularly touched the team members’ hearts was the account of a homeless man coming to shelter, getting back on his feet with the help of shelter staff and regaining custody of his three children.

Renata, the coordinator, also expressed her deep appreciation for the team’s contributions so far. Both she and Gabor concurred that volunteerism isn’t popular yet in Hungary, as it reminds Hungarians of mandatory volunteering they had to do during the Communist era and the required volunteering current local high school students must complete before graduation.

A volunteer, Ray, of Greeley, Colorado, also expressed thanks for this amazing experience of getting to know locals in the unique way that Habitat for Humanity provides through its global volunteer outreach. The rest of the team agreed.

Top Left: Team leader Julia (right) and local coordinator Renata (left) meet with shelter staff and families.
Bottom Left: Local staff expressed gratitude for Habitat for Humanity’s traveling volunteers.

Day Four: Breaking Bread — with Goulash
September 22, 2018

Day Four began with a lovely devotion from Alan, team co-leader and Thrivent Financial employee. He instructed the team to form a circle. Then he said each team member should toss an apple to another team member, while telling that person what makes them so valuable and special to the team.  This exercise was a unique and thoughtful way to show our gratitude for one another, and show, through an imaginary web created by the apple, what a great web we have built as a group in such a short time. It is an amazing feat to work so well together after only meeting just a few days ago.

Work continued.

At the end of the day, the team was rewarded with homemade goulash, compliments of the shelter (with help from the Habitat team). It was a welcome treat, made with much love and care, after another hard and rewarding day of insulation installation.

Tomorrow is the last day. It will be bittersweet, as we will have finished so much in so little time — but we also say goodbye to such wonderful people from both the team and the shelter.

Day Five: There’s No Place Like Home
September 23, 2018

The team began by each person describing why they volunteer and what this week meant to them. Some wanted to offer their talents and time, while others mentioned the unique way the Global Village experience allows them to connect with people from other cultures.   A new volunteer who never participated in Global Village before said that she didn’t expect the experience to have such an impact on her and was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

The local Habitat and shelter staff expressed their gratitude for the team’s hard work and accomplishments.  Tibor, the construction manager, said everyone would leave a piece of themselves with him. He was so touched by the team’s generosity and commitment to the project.  Tibor also insisted that the work was quality; Renata, the local Habitat affiliate coordinator, said volunteers often produce better work because they put so much care into it.

Just because it’s the last day doesn’t mean we can slack off! The Habitat for Humanity Global Village team in Budapest, Hungary, finished with a flourish by completing two walls of insulation and coating.

What happens next?

  • The rest of the walls still need coating, and then all walls will be painted.
  • The estimated heat savings of approximately 20 percent this winter will allow the shelter to renovate and offer affordable apartments to transitioning families, which it was unable to do last year due to higher heating costs.
  • Everyone needs a home with the basic necessities like heat —- because there’s no place like home.

How can you get involved?

Want to learn more about this program and how to get involved? Visit

Top Left: Look at what we’ve done!
Bottom Left: All cleaned up! Our final team dinner.