1996: Past and future in Hungary

Arpad Eiler happened to see President Carter on The Tonight Show, talking about the next Carter Work Project, which would build 10 houses in Hungary. A cabinet maker who’d volunteered with his local Habitat affiliate in Wisconsin, Eiler thought his construction skills and fluency in Hungarian could make him useful. And, he thought, “Wow, it would be great if I could go back.”

His family had fled Hungary in the 1950s, trying to stay ahead of the Russian army. They made their way to Germany, where Eiler was born, and then to the United States. Eiler had visited Hungary three times in his life before deciding to join the Carter Work Project. The fourth time would be very different.

“For me, it was very emotional, especially seeing the transition, with communism having been removed from Hungary and more freedom and people just happy to see the change,” he says. “It was just nice to be able to be back there to help them start building their new lives.”

Eiler has gone on to volunteer at nine more Carter Work Projects, but says the Hungary trip will always be his favorite. “It was very emotional to be there, and even though I wasn’t born in Hungary, it’s really where my heart lies. Being able to help someone who was struggling in Hungary was just great.”

While Eiler was connecting with his past, house leader Vic Fasolino was forming a bond with his future, a roofing crew leader named Lora. “I would sit up on the roof and I would watch Vic,” she says. “He had to run this whole house, and there were all these different languages. When there was a question, Vic would line everybody up.”

Romanian volunteers on the crew spoke Hungarian, but not English, so they would ask a question of Eiler, who would then ask Vic in English. He would answer, and Eiler would translate back.

As the week went on, Vic and Lora got closer, but he was from New Jersey, and she lived in Seattle. When the trip was over, they returned to their respective sides of the country, only to be reunited the next week at a 500-mile, five-day bike ride to celebrate Habitat’s 15th anniversary. “That’s when we fell in love,” Vic says.

“We ended up getting married on the Carter project in Pikeville, Kentucky, since we had so many friends in Habitat and since Pikeville, in my view, was halfway to Seattle,” Vic says. “Lora corrected me. It’s really not, but it sure seems like it.” 

The Fasolinos celebrated their first anniversary — and have marked many since — on Carter Work Project sites. They have only missed three Carter Work Projects since 1992 and have gone on quite a few Global Village trips and participated in special Habitat builds, as well. “We’ve had an awful lot of fun together through the years,” Lora says, “and Habitat has been central to many of our most challenging adventures.”