Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Beating cancer, living life in an RV, Williamsburg couple won’t slow down

Jeffrey and Sharon Lawrence work together to install a water heater shelf at a Habitat for Humanity home they helped build. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)
Jeffrey and Sharon Lawrence work together to install a water heater shelf at a Habitat for Humanity home they helped build. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)

In 1966, Jeffrey and Sharon Lawrence met while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Brazil, beginning a more than 50-year journey together.

Since then, the couple has accomplished and overcome a lot.

Jeffrey, 76, retired in 2011 as an obstetrician-gynecologist and obesity doctor. Sharon, 74, overcame breast cancer twice, finishing up her most recent round of treatments in August. The two traveled together to multiple states, including Minnesota, Louisiana and Florida, in a 38-foot recreational vehicle, building houses for those in need.

Since 2012, the Williamsburg couple has put in thousands of hours of volunteer work, including more than 2,600 at the Williamsburg Habitat ReStore.

More than 1,500 of those hours were volunteered between January and September 2018, as Sharon was going through breast cancer treatments.

“When I had my cancer, the ReStore was my saving grace,” Sharon said. “I wasn’t going to sit home and be sick and just think, you know, about what’s happening to me.”

The Lawrences were recognized last month for their work with the store’s annual “Volunteer of the Year Award” — the only time in the store’s seven-year history a pair received the award, store manager Jonathan Martinez said.

Now, the duo is adding to the adventure, putting in more volunteer hours in Sebring, Florida.

Jeffrey and Sharon Lawrence pose for a photo with a "Volunteer of the Year" award they received in December for their work with the Williamsburg ReStore. (WYDaily/Courtesy Habitat for Humanity Restore Williamsburg)
Jeffrey and Sharon Lawrence pose for a photo with a “Volunteer of the Year” award they received in December for their work with the Williamsburg ReStore. (WYDaily/Courtesy Habitat for Humanity Restore Williamsburg)

For several months each year since 2012, Jeffrey and Sharon live in their 38-foot RV.

Now, they’re in Sebring building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Jeffrey is building and Sharon works at the local ReStore, although sometimes she helps on the job site.

“Jeff likes the building,” Sharon said during a phone call Tuesday evening. “He’s fine at the ReStore, but when it comes to builds, he loves being out there… I can always find a ReStore to work at.”

A new beginning after retirement

When Jeffrey retired in 2011, the pair decided to leave Alaska, where they had lived for 30 years.

“When we came back to the lower 48 (states) … we wanted to do something that was interesting,” Jeffrey said.

The couple already had their RV and enjoyed traveling, Jeffrey said. That’s how the Lawrences found the Habitat for Humanity Care-A-Vanners.

The group, which has been around 30 years, travels the United States, parking in local RV parks and helping build houses for Habitat. Some proceeds from ReStore sales fund the projects.

The Lawrences now spend 12 to 14 weeks living in their RV each year, traveling with a purpose.

“That just fits us perfectly,” Jeffrey said.

Hard at work

While in Williamsburg, Jeffrey works primarily in the electronics section of the ReStore, making sure donated items work correctly and sometimes making small repairs.

Sharon does “everything and anything,” she said. She deep cleans donated appliances, tests sewing machines, prices items and helps rotate and stock inventory on the shelves.

The Williamsburg store averages 57 donation drop-offs each day, meaning volunteers are always busy, said Martinez, the store manager.

The Lawrences stayed in Williamsburg longer than usual in 2018 because Sharon couldn’t leave while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. She discovered she had cancer again in late 2017, meaning the pair couldn’t go to Florida and build houses as they had originally planned.

Sharon said the ReStore’s staff and volunteers have become a second family for her. The Restore has more than 70 active volunteers and 21 employees, Martinez said.

Sharon Lawrence operates a table saw for Habitat for Humanity. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)
Sharon Lawrence operates a table saw for Habitat for Humanity. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)

Sharon’s skin was burned so badly during her radiation treatments that it sometimes hurt to wear clothes. Throughout her treatment, which Sharon said was aggressive, ReStore staff would check on her during her shift, making sure she didn’t “overdo it.”

“She was a champ,” said Marcia Morton, ReStore volunteer coordinator.

Diane Kieffaber, another volunteer coordinator, added that Sharon often took jewelry home to detangle and sort on her own.

“It really lifted my spirits to be there,” Sharon said.

With the health issues in the rearview mirror, Sharon and Jeffrey hope to travel for more builds with Habitat.

“It’s a nice lifestyle instead of being home at one place all the time,” Sharon said.

Jeffrey Lawrence and another Habitat for Humanity work together on an outside wall board at a Habitat for Humanity home. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)
Jeffrey Lawrence and another Habitat for Humanity work together on an outside wall board at a Habitat for Humanity home. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sharon Lawrence)
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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