RVing has opened up so many new opportunities for our family! One of our very favorite experiences, that we doubt we would have ever gotten involved with without our mobile RV lifestyle, is volunteering.
During our first year out on the road, we spent our time visiting every national park, museum, zoo, aquarium, historical site, and tourist destination that we could. It was a crazy fun year of wild travel.
While we wouldn’t change how we spent that first year as fulltimers, we did not want to raise our kids to think that life was one big vacation. Even though our RV lifestyle may be laid back, we didn’t want our children’s work ethics to be.
We began to look around for opportunities for our family to work, give back, and serve. Volunteering was the perfect fit. We did not have to promise a long-term commitment as with a traditional job, we would all be able to feel like we were giving back to others around us, and we could utilize our talents and efforts to help others.
While we have participated in several different types of volunteer efforts while fulltime RVing, disaster relief volunteering is our favorite.
For the past five years, we have spent time helping others cleanup and rebuild after major disasters such as a tornadoes, ice storms, and major flooding — an experience that we never would have considered had it not been for our ability to be mobile.
In the wake of a natural disaster, there are multiple agencies and organizations that will immediately head into the area to assist the homeowners that are affected. Thanks to our RV, we also have the ability to move to an area to offer our assistance with their efforts, and without taking up the local resources that are needed by those displaced.
Usually after a natural disaster, there are two different volunteering needs. The short term cleanups that happen in the days and weeks following the disaster, and rebuilding, which is an effort that can extend for years.
The help that is needed varies greatly from area to area, as well as type of disaster, but there is always a demand for those that are able to assist with physical cleanup of property following a disaster. This is more common than a rebuild, which does not always follow.
When we volunteer with disaster relief efforts, we are responsible for finding our own “lodging,” whether that means staying onsite (not in our RV) with the ministry, or staying in our RV and finding a campground that is near enough to the disaster site that we can drive back and forth.
The organizations that are helping out are there to help focus on the victims of the disaster, and do not have the resources to find alternative lodging for the volunteers.
The day-to-day details of time with each organization will vary some, but as a general rule, you will be teamed up with other volunteers and go out to home sites as a group. Volunteers are usually given matching shirts with the organizations insignia on them so that city officials and law enforcement will know that you and your group are legitimate volunteers and not looters.
The group’s team leader will line out everyone on the tasks that need to be completed at each property, and oversee the work being done. Once onsite, you often will meet the homeowner, then everyone works together to help pick up the property and haul ruined items and debris to the curb for the city to haul off.
It is very physically taxing work, though the pace is generally laid back and there is a fun, group atmosphere. Organizations are careful not to put their volunteers in precarious positions, and you will be provided with the necessary tools to do the job, including gloves, rakes, shovels, and demolition tools as needed.
Volunteering has had so many positive impacts on our lives! We love knowing that we can still help communities that are in need, and by the time we leave, whether we have been there for three days or three weeks, they are ‘our’ community and ‘our’ neighbors.
We have made incredible new friends all over the country in both fellow volunteers as well as homeowners who we have assisted. We have learned so much about the culture of each area we have volunteered at, from visiting with the locals as we work, to enjoying all the unique local foods that seem to materialize in these disaster situations.
- We have met elderly homeowners whose insurance did not cover demolition or cleanup costs, and who were not physically able themselves to remove all the debris that a tornado dumped on their yard.
- We have met younger disabled folks who did not have the knowledge or ability to remove water damaged drywall and insulation in their flooded home.
- We have helped homeowners who were not able to run chainsaws and trim saws to remove damaged tree limbs that threatened their roofs after an ice storm.
Sometimes the amount of work required to clean up a property simply paralyzes a homeowner to inaction because the workload seems impossibly daunting. No matter the situation, many hands make light work, and the physical help that volunteers provide, as well as the accompanying emotional support, can bolster homeowner attitudes and give them the hope to see past the immediate problems that they are dealing with.
Now that we have volunteered on so many relief deployments, over so many years, we cannot imagine volunteering NOT being a part of our lifestyle. Here are our tips for those considering volunteering for the first time:
- Only volunteer with a organization that you have verified to be legitimate.
- Go with a good work ethic! Skill is not as important as a willingness and heart to assist.
- Never attempt to help homeowners with cleanup without their permission. We have met several homeowners who were devastated to find that do-gooders had begun to clean up their property when the homeowners were not on site, and destroyed or tossed items of sentimental value. What may look like garbage to you may be all they have left of a loved one or memory of an event, and it is now priceless to them.
- Go with a positive attitude, but empathy for what the homeowners have been through. You are there to help physically, but, for many homeowners, the fact that you are there is a huge emotional connection and support system for them. They need support both physically and emotionally.
- Just do it. We all have different ways that we can assist those dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster. If you are able to travel to an area with volunteer needs, then make an adventure of it. You may find yourself as addicted to the experience as we are!
If you are interested in obtaining more information on disaster relief volunteering, check into these agencies and ministries that do disaster relief, and accept volunteers:
- Samaritan’s Purse – this is the organization that we volunteer with exclusively for disaster relief. You can find more info on their disaster relief efforts, as well as a sign up form at www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/us-disaster-relief.
We are happy to field any questions about volunteering with this group.
- Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief — www.namb.net/send-relief/disaster-relief
- Team Rubicon — www.teamrubiconusa.org
- Poured Out — www.poured-out.org
- Mennonite Disaster Services — www.mds.mennonite.net
- Operation Blessings — www.operationblessing.com
You can also find more organizations that offer disaster relief assistance and volunteering opportunities by clicking here.
Have you had experience working in disaster relief as an RVer? Share your story in the comments below.