April 12, 2023
MDS RV program a good fit for retired Ohio couple
Ned and Mary Gisel serving in Grand Isle, La.
When Ned and Mary Gisel of Archbold, Ohio retired a few years ago, they wondered what they would do next. Then they discovered the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Recreational Vehicle (RV) program.
“We bought a camper because we thought we might like RVing,” said Ned, 70, of their 35-foot Jayco Eagle trailer.
The couple, members of the Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, thought about doing MDS service. When they heard about the RV program, it thought it would be a good fit.
“We like it,” said Ned, who worked for a natural gas pipeline company before retirement in 2018. “It suits us at this stage in our lives.”
This is their second time doing the RV program—the first time was in 2021 in Texas. “We get to meet new people and learn new things and see new places,” he said, noting they are serving for a month in Grand Isle.
For Mary, 69, who worked at various jobs before retiring including in a library and running a family-owned shoe store, it’s the camaraderie of the program that keeps her coming back.
“I like to meet new people and learn new skills,” she said, noting that neither of them are “really handy people.”
She also likes the end result when someone has a fixed-up home. “That’s special,” she said. “It’s great to help somebody.” Added Ned: “That’s why we do it, to get people back home.”
The Gisels were in Grand Isle, Louisiana for the month of February, helping people impacted by Hurricane Ida in 2021. The storm swept across the barrier island, causing widespread damage.
The things they like about the RV program include the more relaxed pace—volunteers work four days a week, six hours a day, and mostly do light repairs—and how they can “sleep in our own bed at night,” Mary said.
The program also accommodates people with health conditions, like Mary, who had a stroke a year ago.
“I might be a bit slower but that’s OK,” she said. “People here are so understanding and everyone is so supportive.”
The couple also likes the family feel of the project. “I love the camaraderie,” said Mary. “It developed in a really quick time.”
She attributes this to their faith and similar values. “It makes it easy to make friends,” she said.
Seeing other parts of the country and getting to know a new area well is also a bonus, as is being in a warmer climate in winter.
They also like they can take their dog, Sander, along with them. “He’s a Shih tzu, a rescue,” she said. “He travels with us, wherever we go. Through the RV program, we don’t have to kennel him.”
“I’d encourage anyone interested in RVing to consider it,” said Ned. “It’s a great way to spend your retirement years.”
The MDS RV program is designed for older adults who want to serve in the southern U.S. during the winter. More laid-back in nature than traditional projects, volunteers work four days a week, six hours a day, usually on lighter repair projects. The term of service is one month or more. Hookups are provided in local campgrounds.
For more information about the MDS RV program, visit https://mds.org/rv-volunteer
John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications