Our first year on the road, we were tourists. We explored small towns, national parks, historic sites and the startlingly empty places in between, as fast as we could. We were careful not to leave anything but footprints, but we realized that was exactly the problem.
Our first 15 years of marriage, we had actively given back to the North Carolina communities where wed lived. I had spent my career in nonprofit management, and many longtime N&O readers will recall Dennis columns asking readers to volunteer at the USO or bring a gift to the Wake County Foster Childrens Angel Tree. It seemed like every other weekend he was involved in some crazy fundraiser, from grape stomps to beauty pageants to barbecue judging.
On the road, we missed that sense of purpose.
So when we began our second year of wandering, we joined an organization called NOMADS, a ministry of the United Methodist Church, where small groups of RVers come together for three-week service projects.
As NOMADS, we tore out sliding glass doors and replaced them with walls and windows to make children safer at a homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix. We cooked salsa and hot pepper jelly in Dubach, La., to raise funds for the Methodist Childrens Homes Outdoor Wilderness Learning Center. In Chatham, Ill., we packed hundreds of plastic bags with toiletries and other necessities for disaster relief sites.
There are other RV ministries organizing volunteer efforts across the country. We chose NOMADS because they welcome all faiths, even us Unitarian Universalists.
State and federal agencies also embrace RV volunteers and post opportunities on volunteer.gov. Some of our RV-based friends volunteer as campground hosts and greet visitors for the National Park Service, National Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Others mow and whack weeds at historic sites or dress in period clothing to share our nations most fascinating stories. Some give directions, start films and clean bathrooms at fish hatcheries, visitor information centers and museums across the country.
We spent our last two months on the road at the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La., where we opened and closed the gates at sunrise and sunset, picked up litter blown from boats and pickup truck beds, welcomed tourists in the gift shop, and occasionally fed the baby alligators in the Conservation Learning Center.
We were soundly pushed out of our comfort zone when faced with snakes and busloads of small children both of which scare the beejeebers out of us but we tried to embrace every adventure.
Most RV volunteer opportunities provide a free place to park the RV, generally with full utility hook-ups and a schedule that allows time to explore the area. Many provide a hat, shirt and nametag; some even offer free or discounted on-site amenities, like canoe rental, fishing or golf. Others allow you to connect, ever so briefly, with another soul.
Read more at http://nando.com/be