“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy, when you vote you vote once a year, but when you volunteer you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” -Marjorie Moore
Motivations for choosing solar have roots in many places, from the pragmatic to the political, from saving money to saving the world. While most of us might not view our purchases with the same weight as casting a ballot, in a capitalistic society we also vote with our dollars. Solar technology would not be where it is today without those initial investors who believed in its potential and helped make the cost much more accessible to the average person. Investing in renewable energy, whether for your home or your RV, can also help shift the focus of our energy conversation within our communities. By volunteering to be the first person in your neighborhood to install solar panels, you help others see the potential of this technology, without even saying a single word. But solar power can also facilitate other ways in which we can volunteer within our communities, both near and far.
For the over one million Americans who live in some kind of RV, van, or trailer (whether solar powered or not) the concept of community can have a slightly different context than for those who are more rooted in a traditional home. The places RV’ers visit, and people they meet, help create a broad community of loosely connected wanderers across a wide landscape. RV’ers are typically a friendly bunch, great at meeting fellow travellers and neighbors in campgrounds, sharing meals, helping out with problems, making connections, and even staying in touch from afar.
When we left our former careers and traditional home behind in 2012 for a life of adventurous travel, our main priorities were to explore the natural wonders of our continent, live more sustainably, and intentionally volunteer some of our time. Our previous hectic work and house maintenance schedules made carving out additional time to volunteer a challenge. With much more time on our hands, we can now choose to spend it serving something bigger than ourselves.
Why Volunteering is Important to Us & How Solar Has Facilitated this Journey
As we write this installment of the Renogy blog, we’re volunteering at an organic farm in the high country of North Carolina. We’ve parked Hamlet in a wide pasture with enough sunshine to have our battery back up to 14.2V by 10:30am. Giving back to others and the causes we believe in are important ways to find greater meaning in our lives. Each and every time we have volunteered, whether at an organic farm in Kauai or in a rural village in western Kenya, we’ve always felt like we’ve received just as much as we gave.
Volunteering drops you right into the middle of a community with shared meals, group excursions, and community engagement. The key to being a successful volunteer is saying “Yes!” to these chances and being up for almost anything. We’ve always been glad we did!
These volunteer opportunities can also help take care of some of your basic needs by providing a place to park your rig, and access to bathrooms and laundry. While volunteering on organic farms, a frequent side benefit is all the fresh vegetables you can eat. Since our home is solar powered, we don’t have to limit ourselves to just those volunteer opportunities that offer a full-hook up trailer space. We also don’t have to share volunteer housing with others who might not embrace the same housekeeping habits. We can pretty much park Hamlet anywhere with adequate sun -- from a driveway to a corner behind the barn -- and be quite happy. We know that we’ll have a comfortable place in which to sleep, cook, and hang out while still being able to connect to the organization community.
Annually, we try to spend about a third of our time volunteering in some capacity or another. Here’s a couple of the opportunities we’ve gotten up to since we hit the road:
Farming: The Original Solar Experience
The farm in Maine was just a month away from shutting down for the season when we arrived, but we ended up getting a masterclass in kale anyway. Did you know there are over 17 kinds? We used the online matching service, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, to line up this volunteer gig. The friendly farm team welcomed us like family, practically the moment we arrived. We shared in the chores, potluck dinners, and in the community surrounding this little plot feeding its neighbors. We worked hard, and laughed ourselves silly, while toiling in the vegetable beds.
On the many farms we’ve volunteered from Maine to Florida to Colorado to North Carolina, the work can be both invigorating and routine. The weed, harvest, wash, dry, package, repeat cycle usually gets broken up by special construction or side projects which fit your skill set. No matter the tasks at hand, a tight knit community inevitably forms, allowing opportunities for weekly outings, community meals, and a sense of shared purpose. And, we’ve always found a good sunny spot to park our solar powered rig on the farms that have hosted us. It’s been a win-win experience for everyone!
Getting Out the Vote!
In both 2016 and 2018, while boondocking on public lands and exploring national parks and wilderness areas, we contributed to a letter writing project intended to reach likely voters. Spending a few evenings writing out personal, hand-written letters allowed us to stay connected to our “home” precinct, even though we were half a continent away. In this day of high-tech interconnectedness, we loved kicking it old school with creative, hand-written messages. Another way we got involved was by volunteering with a non-profit, to call likely voters and volunteers when we had a strong Wi-Fi connection.
Since national parks have been our playground, destination, and outdoor classroom for years, and we felt it important to get involved in a more formal way. We got connected to Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island in Maine via volunteer.gov. Because of our backgrounds in outdoor and environmental education, we were assigned to the education program that worked with school children in the park. We taught programs in the low tidal environment on the park’s beaches, we hiked kids through the glacially carved granite mountains, and even spent Halloween dressed as the insects who play a vital role in the park’s ecology -- I mean how fun is that? We wanted the chance to give back, but we got so much more! By becoming a part of the park's community, we learned more about that environment and its natural history than we could have in a lifetime of visits. We became essential to that season’s staffing and what the school kids would remember about their trip “downeast.” Moreover, we made lifelong friends. And once again, we were able to park our little rig in a volunteer campsite and run on solar power.
An Outlet for Anxiety
During this year when challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic dominate much of our conversation, creating more questions and uncertainty for the future, volunteering has become more important than ever. Doing something to be part of the solution can be a powerful antidote to feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. While it might not yet be time to jump in your RV and hit the road to help out, you can reserve a future spot to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build, sign up with the American Red Cross, or even find a variety of virtual ways to volunteer from the comfort of your RV, wherever you happen to be parked.
Here’s a Whole Host of Volunteer Opportunities Perfect for RVers, or Van Dwellers!
In Person, Hands-On Opportunities:
American Red Cross DOVE Program This special interest group, affiliated with Escapees RV Club, has a working relationship with the American Red Cross. When a disaster occurs, the Red Cross deploys volunteers and staff to help people impacted by the crisis. In order for you to be the most helpful at this point, there is Red Cross training that is required to prepare you for various job assignments and tasks you may be assigned. RV Care-A-Vanners Habitat for Humanity Whether you want to help with a build, train others on safety regulations, or become part of their Disaster Rebuild Team, your skills are needed. Other skilled volunteer opportunities are available as well, including serving on the desk staff to help manage the program or becoming a Habitat advocate for safe and affordable housing.
American’s State Parks Volunteer opportunities often range from camp hosting to trail maintenance to office assistance to environmental education. Important Note: This is not a direct link to volunteer opportunities. To find opportunities, choose a state and peruse their website. Some states will have an easy to find volunteer opportunity link directly from their home page; others states will require you to use their search engine and type in the word “volunteer.” Most have both individual as well as group volunteer opportunities.
America’s Natural & Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal Always wanted to help out in a national park, on BLM land, at a national wildlife refuge, or with the Army Corps of Engineers? This website will lead you to a world of opportunities to explore. These can vary widely from place to place but often include camp hosting, maintenance, education/interpretation, habitat restoration, and more. To find opportunities which include a spot to park your rig, choose“RV/Trailer pads” from the “Housing/Amenities” list in the search function.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Love to dig in the dirt in your garden? Want to learn more about organic farming? Opportunities vary widely so do your research, and let them know you don’t need housing as you’ll be bringing your own home. There is a $40 annual membership fee for this program which gets you access to a world of information.
Workampers While Workampers is often billed as an opportunity for retirees, you don’t have to be retired, you just need a mobile dwelling and have a free 20+ hours a week. Opportunities can be found at various places across the country and are similar to those found with federal and state agencies such as camp hosting, maintenance, office work, education/interpretation, habitat restoration, and more.
Music Festival Wizard Volunteering is a great way to see first hand how music festivals run. And, if you’re interested in working at music festivals professionally, volunteering gets your foot in the door. These opportunities allow you to meet incredible people, learn new skills, and of course, get free music festival tickets and a behind the scenes look.
The Turban Project There are a number of RVers out there that love to craft, sew, and quilt while on the road. This program needs your skills to create headwear and face masks! This ministry was started by the women of the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus Assembly. They have grown to include volunteers from all religions, ages, and walks of life -- with 15 satellite projects in the US and 11 internationally. They stock 50 hospitals and have created and donated over 45,000 turbans, courage caps, beanies, crochet/knit hats, scarves, and reusable medical face masks since June of 2012. Just knowing that this group is out there doing this work gives the good feels.
AARP’s Experience Corps If you prefer to live in or near a city while living in your RV and have experience with children, AARP Foundation Experience Corps is an intergenerational volunteer-based tutoring program that is proven to help children who aren’t reading at grade level become great readers by the end of third grade. They inspire and empower adults 50 and older to serve in their community and disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of America’s most vulnerable children. Note: This is perfect for people living in nearby RV parks, as the organization doesn’t provide housing.
Idealist & Volunteer Match If nothing listed above strikes your fancy, these two organizations host huge databases of volunteer opportunities where you can find a perfect match based on your skills, interests, issues you’d like to support, and location. Warning! It’s easy to get sucked into the possibilities on this site, so grab your favorite beverage before you log on.
Virtual & Remote Volunteer Opportunities:
Opportunities from the comfort of your RV or van, whenever and wherever you may happen to be...
VolunteerMatch (Virtual/Remote Volunteering)
Idealist (Virtual/Remote Volunteering)
Get Out The Vote! With another election season bearing down upon us, it’s easy to simply want to run to the woods and hide out. No matter where you land upon the political spectrum, and no matter where you might be, it’s still easy to stay involved in the democratic process. There are a variety of organizations who handle the logistics of this type of canvassing work; all you have to do is contribute some time and passion to the cause. Contact your home county election office or party headquarters to find ways to get connected from the road.
COVID-19 Specific Volunteer Opportunities:
Opportunities to help out during this pandemic are growing daily, some are remote/virtual and some are hands-on, but all are related to helping to solve this international crisis.
Volunteer Match (COVID-19)