RVing for Good: Where RVers Volunteer while Traveling
Get inspired to give back while on the road with these stories.

By: Noel Fleming & Chris Miller

One of the byproducts of traveling in an RV is that your life expands – broader perspectives, wider horizons, richer experiences. One notable expansion is that of community. Instead of being a member of one small, confined neighborhood, travel stretches our boundaries and with it our sense of belonging and agency. 

That old question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” (echoed for generations from the sweater-clad TV philosopher, Mr. Rogers) takes on new meaning. He encouraged all of us to have hope when needs arise: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

For this article, we have looked for the helpers – those who use their RV for good. It is our pleasure to introduce you to just some of your neighbors who have committed themselves to giving back by volunteering. Maybe you will be inspired to join some of these programs during your travels!

Plus, if you are going to Camp Winnebago this year, there is a great opportunity to volunteer during the event. On Wednesday, July 17, Winnebago owners and employees are invited to participate in a build in partnership with the Habitat Care-A-Vanners and Habitat for Humanity of North Central Iowa. You can also leave messages of support and well wishes on the framing of a home for a deserving family!

Plus, don't forget to browse the GoLife Community groups to find like-minded Winnebago owners who plan meetups, share ideas, and offer support. Many groups also like to plan volunteering projects together!

Spreading Hope through NOMADS

A fellow RVer introduced Judi George to NOMADS (Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service). The group of volunteers historically assists Methodist agencies including churches, camps, children’s homes, retreat centers, senior centers, and disaster relief efforts. However, you need not be affiliated with the Methodist church to join their efforts. 

Firefighters and police often alert NOMADS of community needs. The organization relies on RVers and provides full-hook-up sites at campgrounds for the participants. Teams of volunteers usually work for multiple weeks to complete a project. Work days are typically Monday through Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. During days off, volunteers are welcome to stay at the campground or explore the surrounding area.

New to volunteerism, Judi decided that the organization’s goals matched her own desire to do good. She signed up, opting for a project close to her home in Clermont, Florida. This allowed her to travel a bit and also spend time with her husband who was still working from home. Her team assisted a church in Crystal River, Florida. Along with building maintenance and landscaping, team members worked in a second-hand store and did visitation. 

Judi summed up her experience by saying, “The impact of volunteers goes beyond rebuilding and repairing; it gives people hope and encouragement by letting them know that someone cares.”

Making a Difference with the RV Care-A-Vanners Program

Clay Gump is a solo traveler from Lutherville, Maryland. Wanting to give back, Clay Googled “camper van volunteer experiences.” He quickly found Habitat for Humanity, an organization with which he was familiar, and their program specific to RVers. Care-A-Vanners welcomes all skill and experience levels. Team leaders assess volunteer abilities and direct each member to an appropriate assignment. Staff supplies tools, tool belts, and helmets.

Clay’s first Care-A-Vanner volunteer assignment was a two-week project in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. While working on home construction, Clay installed rafters, added plastic to crawl spaces, finished siding, and installed a fridge. He also assisted in prep for the professional builders who came in and performed a blitz build, completing five houses in five days.

Owning a Winnebago Travato camper van was a complete game changer for Clay. Not only did he avoid the cost of lodging, he had the comforts of home away from home. Each day he drove his van to the worksite and shared Fudgsicles with appreciative fellow workers; each evening he shared beer and played his guitar for the group.

Most Care-A-Vanner volunteers are retirees. The fact that Clay chose to volunteer while still employed surprised the staff. Clay didn’t want to wait until he retired to feel good at the end of the day, knowing he had made a difference in others’ lives.

Helping Feline Friends with TNR Programs

For the past three years, solo RVer Laura Schulte from Dallas, Texas, has been volunteering for animal rescue via TNR (Trap Neuter Return). She rescues feral cats by humanely trapping and transporting them to a clinic where they are spayed/neutered and, once recovered, returned to their homes.

Laura learned about TNR while staying in an Airbnb. After noticing a number of pregnant cats in the area, she visited the local Humane Society and learned about the process of renting traps for TNR. The goal of TNR aligns with her long-time passion for cats.

Having an RV is instrumental in this ongoing volunteer work. Laura often needs to hang out for hours in order for the cats to enter the traps. Once trapped, the RV also allows her to easily transport a number of three-foot traps to the animal shelter. Due to the staggering number of cats being brought to the Humane Society, appointments for vet services fill up quickly. Laura overnights in their parking lot, waking up at 3:00 a.m. in order to nab any of the limited number of available vet appointments for that day.

Learning & Using New Skills to Help through NOMADS

Husband and wife RVing duo Karen and Phillip Joe from Annandale, Virginia, seek out projects through NOMADS where they can both apply their unique set of talents. 

Phillip was introduced to NOMADS by a fellow electrical engineer, a gentleman about 25 years older who volunteered on Native American reservations in Oklahoma. A father figure to Phil, he asked him to join the volunteer workforce many years ago. Due to the needs of their young family, Karen and Phillip decided to shelve that goal for the future. 

Fast forward to eight years ago when Phil lost his job. Much to his surprise, his financial advisor told him that he could retire instead of finding new work. After revisiting the idea of joining NOMADS, he completed his first project in 2018. Subsequently, he has worked on many church camps and churches as well as disaster relief.

Karen completed her first volunteer project this year. Initially, she felt intimidated. Knowing the work her husband had done, she was unsure about the value of her own skill set. However, she stretched herself to do new things and felt stronger from the experience. From bookkeeping to mechanical work, any skills can be used to meet a need. Additionally, annual training is available to teach volunteers new skills.

Phillip noted that on one Texas project a man, whose home had been destroyed by a tornado, sat in his truck watching the team rebuild his home for three weeks. The homeowner couldn’t fathom that people would be willing to do such a thing for nothing in return. 

Building Stronger Bonds while Building Homes with Habitat for Humanity

Viki Anderson from Oxford, Florida, and Ann Kilpatrick from San Francisco, California, became friends during a van rally in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ann had already completed some Care-A-Vanners projects, and she enthusiastically recruited Viki to join her.

As a former architect, Ann initially volunteered monthly in the San Francisco area. She is committed to giving back regularly while on the road, completing a project quarterly. She finds Habitat for Humanity to be a great fit for her desire to work with her hands and be productive!

Viki had learned about the organization six months prior but was unable to participate in a project until she paired up with Ann. They volunteered side by side on scaffolding, installing siding, cutting wood, wrapping plywood, and installing insulation. Viki explained that the labor can be physically challenging, and she encourages volunteers to be aware of their limits. 

They both benefitted from the patient guidance of staff leaders who enable volunteers to hone new skills. Ann built a whole set of stairs! During their time on the project, Ann and Viki took advantage of their Planet Fitness memberships for massages and showers. They also relished the time they had at the end of a workday to share a beer and hang out together. Not only did they strengthen their friendship, but they also developed new bonds with the other volunteers and staff members. 

Their Winnebago camper vans were great rigs to live in during the duration of the project. They shared that it was a luxury to have access to your own bathroom and a space for meal prep. Since Ann travels with a dog, she could also keep him nearby in the van with the A/C running and easily take him out throughout the work days. 

Finding Purpose-Driven Travel with A Year to Volunteer

Husband and wife duo Phil and Shar Roos, from Scottsdale, Arizona, founded the non-profit A Year to Volunteer to give back while RVing. 

Shar had worked in the field of mortgage and finance. Phil had served in the Navy for 36 years. When it was time for the next chapter of their lives, Phil pondered big changes, even contemplating sailing a catamaran around the world. Shar passed on the high seas adventure but agreed to a life of RV travel. She had one condition—their travel needed to have purpose. Thus began the non-profit, A Year to Volunteer (AY2V).

With already established strong connections to the RV community, the Roos created a way to join forces with these likeminded travelers. They decided to focus their efforts on state parks, special places that often operate with a shortage of funds and personnel. Through their own example of volunteerism, they hoped to inspire others to volunteer one day a month.

Their first project assisted a Florida state park that had been hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018 and remained closed due to lack of attention. Through word of mouth alone, 38 people showed up to join the cause. Together, they rebuilt the campground in three weeks!

Phil and Shar’s initial intent was to volunteer in this way for one year. Their vision took on a life that has far exceeded their initial plan. To date, they have logged 40 completed projects in 26 states. They have labored for a total of 51,150 hours with countless RVers who share the desire to give back. A pool of 500 RVers form work crews. Individuals come with a variety of skills, but all come with a positive attitude. 

Over the years, Phil and Shar have witnessed repeatedly the power of volunteering. The joy is evident during workdays, campfire chats, and cocktail hours. The work changes not only the targeted project; it also enhances the lives of the workers. Relationships are formed. Purpose is fulfilled. 

Mr. Rogers was right, “you will always find people who are helping.” If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to volunteer, camp host, or work camp, check out CamperGigs, a website and app launched by the Roos in 2022 that offers a map-searchable interface to connect travelers to opportunities. (Plus, if you are a GoLife Perks member, you can receive half off the already low annual subscription.)

We look forward to seeing you down the road … doing good.


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