Give Back Cincinnati is also giving back to Vietnam, Romania, Ghana and Guatemala.

Give Back, which has enlisted some 5,000 young professional volunteers for an array of service projects in Greater Cincinnati for over a decade, also sponsors two overseas volunteer efforts a year.

The spinoff group Give Back Beyond Cincinnati oversees the service travel with volunteers usually working on building homes in impoverished countries. They do it because, quite simply, "We recognize there is a lot of need outside Cincinnati," says Keith Willhaus, Give Back vice president of programs and a P&G researcher in product development.

First, New Orleans

The idea began several years ago when a Give Back group went to New Orleans to work on post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. The Big Easy trips have become a yearly event. There is also a service trip to Detroit.

A link with Habitat for Humanity for volunteer labor for building projects in other countries followed. Give Back Beyond is now committed to trips to four countries with visits repeating every couple of years.

Some 20 volunteers returned in April from a week in Romania. Willhaus was one of nine who traveled to Vietnam last November to lay foundations for a settlement of 100 houses being built in the Mekong Delta in southwest Vietnam.

"We partnered with an Australian group working on foundations. We carried buckets, mixed concrete, set rebar," Willhaus says. "We made bricks on site with local materials. That was tricky.

"We found it rains a lot in Vietnam."

At another site, the group was able to do finish work on a home for a Vietnamese family. "It involved a single family home for a mother and father and five children. They were living under a tarp. To see the look on their faces. They would often be crying. You can't help but be touched."

Willhaus says the legacy of the Vietnam War was especially evident in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) where anti-American themes were prevalent, such as in museums that depicted American servicemen standing over bodies of women and children. "On the street you saw lots of people disfigured. It was gut-wrenching at times. The ramifications are still there," he says.

At the work site, it was a different feel. "The people were unbelievably welcoming. They always had a smile. They had nothing, but learned to live and celebrate with what they had."

The overseas trips always include a cultural immersion by meeting government officials and visiting schools or orphanages.

Those who participate pay their own way, which can run between $2,000-$4,000 for airfare and lodging.

Willhaus says fundraisers and donations throughout the year help defray the costs.

"It really is about donating your blood, sweat and tears and the love of people in Cincinnati," he says.-