When RVi team member Peter Dufrene and I set out on a cold January day to volunteer with The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Austin Branch at The Community First! Village, we were prepared to roll up our sleeves and pull some weeds. Our mission was accomplished, but by day’s end, we recognized that something far greater than pulling weeds had transpired.

People can experience life-changing events, forcing them into homelessness, particularly when there is no support system. Without a support system such as a family or a community, individuals are not always able to help themselves. That’s where Community First! Village and a few helping hands come in. Community First! Village is a 51-acre master planned community in Austin, Texas, that was developed to provide affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for people coming out of chronic homelessness. A development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the concept of Community First! Village originated from founder and CEO Alan Graham, who had a vision to transform an old RV into an opportunity. Graham’s spark of an idea to convert a used RV into a place for someone who needed a home, evolved into an entire community that now features a mix of RV and park homes, shower/restroom/laundry facilities, community kitchens, an arthouse, cinema, car care station, woodworking shops, walking trails and other amenities.

There are 500 homes in Community First! Village. Staff members who live in the community are employed in various positions to assist with maintenance and other tasks, but as with all communities, at times, additional hands are needed. The volunteer event provided the supplementary assistance required to maintain a community of its size. Although the weeds were pulled and other duties were completed, the volunteers closed the day with the realization that they had become a part of the support system, the essential element required to help end chronic homelessness. A support system requires upkeep though, too. Community First! Village received a sprucing up, but residents and volunteers received the invaluable reward of being a part of a reciprocal support system. Thank you to ASCE, to all the volunteers who dedicated time and energy, and to the residents who shared their spaces and stories. Volunteers plan to return to pull weeds, make repairs and keep the grounds tidy, but perhaps more importantly, we will return to help upkeep the sense of fellowship that is the essence of the strength of all communities.