‘It’s like getting an anniversary present from God’ -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘It’s like getting an anniversary present from God’

Gary Wolf and Lynette Robb learned they qualified for a Habitat home on their wedding anniversary.

The couple’s words spill out over each other into the tiny green garage, the voices blending and separating accidently like two individual melody lines from radically different songs.

Each voice is so intent on its story, it seems impossible these two could also be listening to each other. But Lynette Robb detours to correct Gary Wolf’s version of how they met.

They argue over the story: “Well, you tell it then,” she said.

But eventually, they both tell it.

Their lives are full of stories, full of characters, full of giving and surviving. Living in a cramped space hasn’t interfered with their eight years spent together.

Their work, personalities and laughter spill into the San Pedro, Calif., neighborhood and the world they have built beyond it. They are one of the families who will build with volunteers from all over the world at this year’s Jimmy Carter Work Project, Oct. 28-Nov. 2 in Los Angeles.

Robb, 45, and Wolf, 50, were both homeless when they met 11 years ago. He had a divorce in his past and disability from epilepsy; she had fled an abusive marriage. From a small tent, she was trying to teach other homeless people about Jesus Christ. When asked, he told her, “Of course, I love Jesus. Who doesn’t?”


A single garage

On Valentine’s Day 1999, they moved into the single garage – about the size of a generous walk-in closet ¬– paying six months’ rent in advance. For $460 a month, plus $53 for electricity, the two get a room big enough for two single beds, a kitchen with a compact refrigerator, a shower and sink and a toilet.

Clothes line the walls. The roof leaks when it rains; sewage backs up; a window air conditioner doesn’t reach the sweltering front room, where they’ve just managed to add a window.

On their third wedding anniversary this summer, they learned they had qualified to work with Habitat on a new house – one of eight duplexes to be built with the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2007.

“It’s like getting an anniversary present from God,” Robb said.

Robb and Wolf were surprised by the news, since they had been invited to a celebration lunch at the Greater Los Angeles Habitat for Humanity thinking only that they would be signed up as volunteers.

“We said we’d help,” Wolf said. “We like to help, you know. But then they called us up, and they were talking about us, and they made everything sound so bad. When I heard them tell our story, they made me feel sorry for myself.”

And then Erin Rank, president and CEO of the Habitat affiliate, told them they would have a new house. The press was there; Robb and Wolf were interviewed and photographed … and later interviewed and photographed again. Then one of their children gave them an old car.

“It’s just been a year of blessings,” Robb said.

Sharing their house

As they recount the story of the day they got the news that they would be Habitat homeowners, the two get into a heated discussion on how many people can share their new house.

Wolf wants to offer some space to a family member whose son has a brain tumor. Robb reminds him they’ve already promised a room to his brother. Eventually the argument dissolves into, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

Taking folks in is a way of life for Wolf and Robb.

A friend of Wolf’s named Ed McFarland lived in the kitchen of the single garage with them for three years. They had picked him up at a local nursing home and brought him over to watch Fourth of July fireworks, and he never left.

They nursed him through lung cancer until his death.

“We took him in because he was my friend,” Wolf said. “And she took him over because I couldn’t change the diapers.”

Robb took a course to learn how to help care for McFarland and uses those skills now as a nursing assistant at Pales Verdes Care Center and for a private-care patient. She makes about $17,000 a year.

Helping prison inmates

Wolf, who once was a plumber, no longer has a job because of his disability. He grades Bible studies for a prison ministry, and corresponds with prisoners.

“Ninety percent of them are lifers,” he said. “It gives them something to do, and hope.”

Wolf and Robb also adopted a World Vision child who has big ears.

“I was afraid no one would pick him because he’s goofy looking,” Wolf said. Robb sends him $30 a month and prays he’ll find Christ.

Also, the two volunteer for Santa for Seniors and every other good cause they can find.

Wolf still has a dream: a 24-hour church that would help people when they needed it. “When you’re homeless,” he said, “it’s hard to find help at 2 in the morning.”

A trip to the library to get out of the heat led them to a $20 orientation class on owning a Habitat house. Now as they move closer to construction, they’re ready for sweat equity, which they plan to split: 250 hours each. And they say they’re ready to start paying that $150,000 mortgage.

The new house will mean a double bed – only singles fit the garage – and a place for their three grown children to come for Christmas.

And room. Now they will have room.