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Carlton resident travels for Habitat for Humanity

Team leader Kim Hallgren dedicates the house to Samita (in red), the owner of the home that collapsed during an earthquake in Nepal. Submitted photo1 / 5
Kim Hallgren pauses from making mud to smile for the camera. She was making mud for a house project in Nepal with Habitat for Humanity. Submitted photo2 / 5
Joe and his mother, Kim Hallgren, and fellow volunteer Cathy Lund show they are not afraid to get their hands and feet dirty while working on a house in Nepal. Submitted photo3 / 5
A woman in Nepal carries a basket of dung on her back. Submitted photo4 / 5
Joe Hallgren shows children where he is from on a map. Submitted photo5 / 5

We have wealth beyond measure in the United States, according to Carlton resident Kim Hallgren, 54.

Hallgren turned her love of home projects into a passion for helping others. She has been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in other countries for many years.

In 2010, her husband, Steve Hallgren, came home from work at Thrivent — a nonprofit financial services organization — and told her about an opportunity to go to Guatemala to help build a home. She was enthusiastic and asked for more information to sign up. He informed her he already had.

She embarked on the HFH projects on her own, although they worked together in an orphanage in South Africa's Port Elizabeth.

Hallgren has traveled to many countries in the past eight years through Thrivent Builds Worldwide, including China, Budapest, Portugal and Cape Town, among others.

The experiences are transformative for the volunteers.

"The people are filled with joy, even though they have so little," Hallgren said.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that helps people around the world build and improve housing. The two formed a partnership.

According to the Habitat for Humanity website, more than 85 million people struggle to keep a safe roof over their head.

The volunteers pay for their airfare and most of their food and lodging. Thrivent pays a portion for members.

Hallgren was hooked after the visit to Guatemala.

"The volunteers are great people and it was a lot of fun," Hallgren said. She explained there are usually interpreters on the job site as well as engineers to help guide the volunteers.

Each trip is one week long. When the week is up another group comes in and continues the work for a week until the project is completed. The projects differ depending on the needs. Cape Town, South Africa was a large project of apartment buildings. Hallgren went in 2015 and still remembers working in the intense heat.

"It was 109 degrees and I was mixing cement," Hallgren said. She explained it was very dry at the time and there were several forest fires around the town. Hallgren spoke to a female volunteer from the area who waited 25 years before she got a home.

Hallgren's group in Nepal consisted of 24 people — four of them women in their 70s. The majority of volunteers are female and about half of the volunteers are retired. Most are in their 40s and 50s, but range from teen to an 80-year-old man at one project. They stayed at a local motel with modern amenities.

The owner of the home was a widowed woman with two sons about 9 and 17 years old. The woman was in her late 30s and worked hard alongside the volunteers.

Her home had been turned into a pile of rubble from a recent earthquake. It measured about 900 square feet.

At the Nepal project, they worked hard using pickaxes and shovels to help dig the house's foundation.

Hallgren's younger son, Joe, 24, accompanied her to Nepal. He spent time with some of the children and showed them a world map. Hallgren said he expressed interest in volunteering on another project in the future.

Hallgren enjoys the more relaxed attitudes of people from the countries she has visited.

"People over there are not driven and time is not an issue," she said. "Most are communal living, including sharing fields and working together to harvest the fields."

Hallgrens next project is in Chile in March.

Contact Western Lake Superior Habitat for Humanity at 218-722-3875 to help locally. It serves Carlton, Lake, Douglas and southern St. Louis counties.