Original Habitat volunteer visits
Last updated 10/18/2022 at Noon
Clive Rainey’s passion for creating housing for those in need remains undiminished, after decades of service with Habitat for Humanity — which started with him stepping up as the organization’s first volunteer on April 1, 1977.
His journey with Habitat took him to Africa, where he worked in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and in Uganda in the wake of the genocide perpetrated by its dictator Idi Amin. He retired as a paid staff member and moved to Guatemala, where he continued to work as a volunteer with Habitat Guatemala, before returning to the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has been visiting Habitat affiliates to encourage and challenge them in their work — and that path brought him to Sisters last week.
“I’m on a little tour of affiliates where I was invited to come out and speak,” he explained.
Rainey is known as “the Mark Twain of Habitat” for his font of stories, many of them quite funny, from his years of work around the globe. But Rainey notes that he is 76 years old, which, he says, is long-lived for his family. He feels his time is limited and things are serious.
So, he says, “I’m being serious with people.”
That means challenging communities.
“I’m a Christian,” he said. “It’s the most profound thing in my life.”
When he issues a challenge to a community, there is a certain gravity and sternness that comes across powerfully.
“I call them out in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Rainey called out a local to provide a solution for a child who was wounded in a terrible July 4 parade shooting. The youth’s family had at first simply prayed that he would make it home — but making it home then created its own set of challenges. The home needed modification for wheelchair access. Rainey challenged the local Habitat affiliate to make it happen, and they did.
“Habitat does a lot of that now,” he said. “Building ramps. I keep reminding people that it’s a simple way to keep people in their homes.”
He cited another case in which a local affiliate helped a woman who could not navigate around her own home and had to move into a senior living facility. A remodel made it possible to live the last year of her life at home with her husband.
Hearing of a child whose family was living in a tool shed and pulling buckets of water from a creek for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, Rainey demanded action.
“Do you think it’s romantic? Do you think it’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’?” he said. “It’s not romantic. You can’t tolerate those kinds of things in your community.”
In Sisters, he said, the challenge is to find housing for the unhoused currently living in local forests.
“One of the challenges for your community is to imagine how to create some kind of housing for those people,” he said. “I know you can do it — and we already have evidence.”
Rainey had previously been in Medford, where he saw the impact of devastating fires and the effort to recover.
In that response, he said, he sees “the real greatness of America.”
“We are — we always have been — a nation that can do,” he said.
Rainey saluted the work of Sisters Habitat for Humanity.
“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” he said. “They’ve done miracles here. They’ve brought resources to the community. They’ve found land when you thought it was impossible, and they acquired that land, and built houses on it — good houses with good people in them.
“They’re people to be proud of.”