Family Volunteering Opportunities…

Everyone who knows us, knows that one of our on-the-road passions is for volunteering.  Family volunteering opportunities to be exact.
The first year that we traveled, it was a big vacation; and that is just what we wanted it to be – one big, educational, exciting, and fun road trip.  And that was great!  We would do it all over again for that first year.  But after that, we knew that we needed to invest more into our travels; after all, we were molding young hearts and minds.  Sure, we would go to church on the road, and we would meet other Christians in campgrounds and we could sit around and talk with them all day/night long, and we still do that and we still love that, but God’s word commands a bigger vision than just talking the talk….
But be ye DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a DOER, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass.
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a DOER of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this mans religion is vain.  Pure religion is undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,and to keep himself unspotted from the world.  James 2:22-27 (capitalization mine)

For us, the volunteer work that we do on the road, is our being doers.  🙂

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that every Christian’s calling is to be doers of the word in the very same way that we are, but to be a Doer, you must be Doing.  Some are called to give so others can go, and that is their Doing – others labor with the physical, and that is their Doing – others pray fervently for those sending and laboring, and that is their Doing – and for many, their Doing is a mixture of all 3.  Being God’s ‘Doer’ looks different for each person.  On the road, volunteering in different capacities is our Doing.

We are so thankful for the family volunteer opportunities that God has put in our paths; before that our travels were without a focus/vision/drive more than visiting national parks, zoos, and museums.  Don’t get me wrong – those things are fabulous.  And we still want to give that to our kids, but our vision goes beyond roadschooling and playing the tourist!  And we want our kids to catch that vision.  A vision of serving those who can’t help themselves.

Along those lines, we have volunteered with a couple of (distinctly Christian) ministries over the past 4 years, and hope to volunteer with others in the near future.  While there are lots of ministry opportunities out there for families that want to DO, this post will be only about the organizations that we have experience with (plan to keep updating this post, but will let you know when I add organizations); an overview of volunteering with each ministry, and I will cover each individual site that we volunteer at in individual posts after we have been there…

Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Efforts –
Samaritan’s Purse was founded in 1970 with a vision to “to meet emergency needs in crisis areas through existing evangelical mission agencies and national churches.”  Now, nearly 45 years later, they still have the same vision, and their ministries include disaster relief (international), Operation Heal Our Patriots (intensive marriage ministry to vets disabled since 2001), an orphanage in Haiti, worldwide medical care (including a 3rd-world-children’s heart surgery program), Operation Christmas Child (shoeboxes full of gifts for children who wouldn’t otherwise receive any), and many other ministries to provide food, clean water, healthcare, and hygiene programs throughout the world.  They are a non-denominational organization that is bold about their love for the Lord, and it is infused in everything they do.

Nearly 4 years ago we discovered Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief efforts online, and since then we have volunteered with SP in at least 9 different locations, and spent over 21 weeks volunteering with a mixture of ice storm cleanups, tornado cleanups, storm shelter installs, a month in Alaska building a bunkhouse, and operating equipment since discovering their DR (disaster relief) ministry.

small section of debris field after Baxter Springs, KS tornado 2014

Small section of the debris field from the Baxter Springs, KS tornado. spring 2014

Family volunteering opportunities with Samaritan’s Purse are an incredible experience; join a deployment if you ever get the chance!
They are a large organization, and have some hard and fast rules about volunteering on their DR deployments (thanks to OSHA & insurance liability) – the biggest one that seems to affect families is that volunteers must be at least 14 years of age (14&15 must be accompanied by a parent, 16&17 must be accompanied by someone over 21 who takes responsibility for them), so for us, that means that Vaughn (dad), and a few olders volunteer (lately that is Beth, Jake, and Thomas) can volunteer.  Daniel is stoked that he will be 14 this spring, and is looking forward to being out there on crews with the rest of them!

ice storm cleanup in Augusta, Georgia, March 2014

Beth (18) using her muscles to help homeowners clean up downed trees after an ice storm in Augusta, GA

All work with SP is under the direction of a Team Leader, and is supervised (who knows, if you volunteer on a DR deployement, Vaughn might even be your team leader! 🙂 ).  You do not have to be a skilled laborer to volunteer, but you do need to come with a good work ethic and be willing to use it!

There are 2 ways that you can volunteer with SP on DR deployments – as a ‘day volunteer’ (this is what RVers are considered) or as an on-site volunteer…

*Day Volunteers – day volunteers are people who are not staying with SP at their host’s location (usually a church).  This is what we are considered since we bring our own accommodations (rv) with us.  We provide our own camping/rv spot (SP never provides or arranges this), our own lunches, and at the end of the day return home for dinner.  What we do do, is go to a short overview/orientation meeting at the host church on the first day; that day, and every day after that, we join our crew first thing in the morning, and head out on job.  The day consists of working on a job until noon, then taking a half hour for lunch, which is whatever you brought to eat, and sitting around and fellowshipping with the other volunteers.  Then it is back at it until 4:30ish when you are finished for the day.
Your work as a volunteer can be mucking out flood mess, running a chainsaw or equipment like a skidsteer (if old enough), dragging and carrying branches and other debris to the curb to pile it up for the city to haul off, or working on rebuilding a home which could mean anything from forming and pouring a new home foundation to trim work and paint!  Also during that time, you will have the opportunity to personalize the bible that is given to the homeowner on every job that you work on, as well as pray with them, and even the opportunity to present the bible to them (which is less intimidating than it sounds – our kids love to do this!).

praying with a homeowner after cleaning up ice storm damage to her property.

Beth, Jake, and Thomas pray with a homeowner
(and our SP friend Bruce 🙂 ) after cleaning up her yard in North Carolina after an ice storm and presenting her with a Bible that they all have signed.

As a day volunteer, our crew often uses our truck ‘on the job’; both to carpool volunteers to and from sites, and sometimes even for grunt work.  Because you are usually in tornado alley, or the weeks surrounding an ice storm, the weather isn’t always so great.  Between that and being filthy from volunteering, boondocking for a deployment isn’t usually the best choice, or easily found.  You will need to find and provide your own campsite or parking space as SP does not provide, arrange, or pay for your spot.
So, what makes it worth paying for camping to go get sweaty and sore muscles?  You’ll find out after you do it.  😉  No, really, I’m not sure that I can adequately portray the sense of accomplishment, the peace of knowing that you are carrying out God’s great commission (every bible is presented with the salvation message), the fellowship and camaraderie that accompanies working together in a spirit of service.

taking down a tree that was damaged in a tornado and now threatens a home

Vaughn and Jake assist another SP volunteer (hi Keeth!) in Baxter Springs, KS.

*On-Site volunteers – onsite volunteers stay (eat and sleep) at the host church where Samaritan’s Purse is based out of near the disaster area (called a Lighthouse Church).  Your on-site volunteering will be the same as the day volunteer, but your down time will be spent at the church.  First thing in the morning you will head to a hot breakfast with a devotion (volunteers take turns doing devos in the mornings), where you will also pack your lunch for the day.  Next you are off to the job site, where you will work side by side with any day volunteers.  After you are done working for the day, you head back to the host church, where you will have time to clean up before dinner.  In locations where there is not a large host church, SP will bring shower and kitchen trailers along with the big disaster relief trailer so you will still have those creature comforts!  After showers and dinner comes our second favorite part of the day – Share Time.  During this hour or so after dinner, the group talks over their day, including things that happened that blessed or touched them, they pray for homeowners, and encourage each other.  There is usually free time before lights out.   Sleeping arrangements for on-site volunteers are separate rooms for guys and girls; on long-term deployments, cots are sometimes provided but usually you need to bring an air mattress or cot, and everyone provides their own bedding and personal care items.

samaritan's purse volunteers enjoy dinner at a host church

on-site volunteers enjoy dinner before share time after a full day’s worth of volunteering on ice storm cleanup

The work week for SP Disaster Relief is Monday through Saturday.  Volunteers coming from out of town usually show up on Sunday night, and leave Saturday afternoon (or evening if you don’t have far to go).  Occasionally, on a major disaster, volunteer crews will work 7 days a week to try to help people dig out!
Somtimes, after major disaster cleanups, SP will go back in and help rebuild an area; the schedule for rebuilds is Tuesday through Saturday.

On larger, more publicized disasters and rebuilds, on-site volunteer spots fill up fast, and you may need to schedule weeks or months in advance.

Don’t bring clothes to work in that you want to keep nice (onsite laundry is available for on-site volunteers), and do wear sturdy, hard soled shoes -preferably work boots as nails and other debris can penetrate soft soled shoes. 🙂  You will be walking extensively, using your muscles, and digging through mud or water damage or tornado-flung dirt.  Bring work gloves.  Don’t forget your pillow and towel.

Are you a skilled tradesman (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, tree monkey)?  Samaritan’s Purse provides the necessary tools for all their workers, but you are free to bring your hand-tools (belt) if you would prefer the familiarity.

volunteering with disaster relief is hard work!

Most importantly, come prepared to work!!! Beth and Thomas sleeping, after lunch, on their way to the next homeowner’s yard.

If you would like to learn more about Samaritan’s Purse, you can check out these links:

Samaritans Purse .org home page – here you can find information on all of their many ministries.
SP’s US Disaster Relief page – where you can click through to see where SP is deployed to and to schedule dates to go volunteer, and even begin the online application so that you will be ready to go when the opportunity presents itself!  The need is great.

cleaning up the rubble of a bowling alley after a tornado went through Baxter Springs, Kansas, spring 2014.

Cleaning up the rubble after a tornado ripped through Baxter Springs, Kansas in 2014.

YWAM (Youth With A Mission) –

The vision that God has given us, and the opportunities that He has presented us with, are rather addictive, and SP, just in the spring, just wasn’t cutting it!  🙂  So, we began looking around for other opportunities to serve when we weren’t busy with SP.  Another fulltime RV family mentioned that they had volunteered with a ministry named Youth With A Mission (YWAM).   YWAM is also a non-denominational organization, and you will find it more ‘charismatic’ than SP.  😉  Their faith is also apparent in everything they do.

Being Christian homeschoolers, we were familiar with some aspects of YWAM, and already had lots of their Christian Heroes books, and knew about their youth missions trips, but we had no idea what else their ministry included.  So, after asking Troy and his family about their experience, we checked out the YWAM website to learn more about volunteering with them and to discover more about their RV ministry opportunities.

YWAM has volunteer opportunities for people who do not have RVs, but this post is going to focus mainly on informing other RVers, who are interested in volunteering, with some basic details about serving with YWAM so they can determine if this would be a good fit for them.

While a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer opportunity is pretty easy to describe because they are so consistent, YWAM’s volunteer opportunities are equally difficult to describe because each campus is unique – that can be a great thing tho, as different locations can offer different opportunities and different experiences to the volunteers.

volunteer carpentry work

The guys demoing and rebuilding bridge rails at YWAM Salem (OR).

There are hundreds (+1200!) of YWAM locations all over the world!  There are dozens here in the US, and an few in southern Canada.  Each campus has a different focus/flavor/outreach ministry, but bases are the same in that they all have onsite staff, and each location is there to train Christians for outreach through their Discipleship Training School.  Each location is unique, so each one has different needs/requirements for their volunteers.

YWAM has opportunities for on-site volunteers, both those traveling in an rv, and those that need housing.  Some campuses have a limit on either minimum or maximum time a volunteer can stay.  When we volunteered at the Salem, OR YWAM campus, the minimum stay for an on-site volunteer was one month, while at another YWAM near Fresno, CA, most volunteers stay just 5 days (M-F).

packaging soup at Gleanings for the Hungry in California

Packaging dry soup mix to be sent to a 3rd world nation while volunteering at a YWAM base in California.

So, here are some random tidbits about volunteering with YWAM:

~YWAM calls their short term volunteers Mission Builders.  Mission Builders who travel around and volunteer, while living in their RVs, are called RV Associates.

~Mission builder volunteers tend to be (but are not always!) retired couples.   There are also younger couples doing it, as well as families (mostly during the summer, or homeschoolers).

~Mission Builders volunteer anywhere from one week to 3 months, depending on skills, base needs, and available accommodations.  Some bases only take skilled tradesmen as mission builders, while others have varied opportunities – some even have volunteering that children can do!  Obviously, some bases are better/more appropriate for youth to volunteer at – be sure to call each base to find out their outreaches, and be sensitive as to their needs and preferences to children volunteering.

repackaging beans to be distributed to local families

Molly (5) and Caleb (3) help to repackage dried pinto beans to distribute to local families during this Christmas season.

~On some bases, the Mission Builders meet a one-time need that the staff and students either do not have the time, or the technical skills, to complete.   On other bases, Mission Builders staff ongoing ministry needs, and when their time of volunteering is over, they simply train the next mission builder that will take over that spot.

~Mission Builders can stay onsite in dorm-style or apartment accommodations (varies based on base and availability), or in base full hookup camp sites if available.  Because YWAM bases do not sell anything, but rely solely on donations, volunteers will want to consider a donation to cover the cost of their food and housing during their time on location (food and fhu for RV Associates) – suggested donations range from $100/wk/person to $200/mo/adult depending on the base.  Staff and students on the bases are in the same position you are; none of them receive a salary.  Staff and students are nearly all there funded by support, and they also pitch in to cover food/laundry/electrical costs.

~There are 25 US YWAM bases that are RV ready (offer full hookup sites for their volunteers).  These sites are not a free spot to park while you check out the area; volunteers put in 5 full workdays a week!  While you will have your weekends off on many of the bases, you may just be content to stick around during your time off; each base is a safe, welcoming community.

our 5yo volunteering at YWAM Gleanings in California

Molly (5) helps to package dry soup mix at YWAM Gleanings in California.

*Probably The Most Important thing to remember about volunteering as a Mission Builder is that every single YWAM base is different.  There are no hard and fast rules other than: be prepared for a distinctly Christian atmosphere, and be ready and willing to work in whatever capacity you are needed!

volunteering at YWAM's Gleanings for the Hungry in California

Helping to pour concrete while volunteering with YWAM’s Mission Builders at Gleaning for the Hungry in California.

You can learn more about YWAM’s main mission on the website.  If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Mission Builder (individual or family), you can read about it on the Mission Builders website; if it sounds like it would be a good fit for you, you can even apply online from that page, as well as find a map of the RV-ready Mission Builder ready bases here.

volunteering in the Gleanings for the Hungry soup plant

Daniel (13) and Emma (9) race while bagging soup mix to be sent overseas

As we volunteer, we post at least one article about each deployment/location.  You can find posts about our past volunteering experiences under ‘Volunteering on the Road’ in the top menu; you can also use the search feature (right hand side-bar) to look up Samaritan’s Purse or YWAM in order to find posts dealing with volunteering with each organization.
I will also post links to overviews of each location here as we complete volunteering there.  So far, we have spent time at…
YWAM Salem in Salem, OR
YWAM Gleanings for the Hungry near Fresno, CA

If you have any questions about family volunteering opportunities with these organizations, please reach out to me and I will help you as best I can; we also have friends that have volunteered with other organizations, so may be able to give you some basic info on volunteering with other ministries also. I intend to update this post as I think of missing tips (or they are pointed out by readers 😉 )…  We hope to volunteer with several other ministries this year, and will blog about new additions to this list.  Our goal in sharing our family volunteering experiences is to both inform you, and to inspire you, to look into this incredible experience for your family!  You will be as blessed by your time laboring alongside other believers as the recipients of your labor are blessed by the work that you can do for them!

5 year old child helps haul off old wood while demoing a bridge railing while being volunteer Mission Builders.

Molly (5) helps haul off old wood while her brothers demo and rebuild a bridge railing while volunteering as Mission Builders at YWAM Salem (Oregon).

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  1. Hello. We are looking at ywam and mission builders. Our kids are ages 6, 5, and 3. We are open to go south of the equator since we will be serving in fall/winter and we live in Orange County ca. My husband is a chef and I homeschool. What base camp would be best for us with our children’s young ages? I would like a school for them onsite. I can stay with them – but I’d prefer to serve and have the kids in some sort of schooling/bible teaching etc for part of the day. Please let me know what you think. I have researched a ton… I just need someone with 1st hand experience. Thank you!

    • Hi Ashley! We have only volunteered at 3 YWAM bases so far:
      Gleanings for the Hungry near Fresno, CA
      YWAM Salem (OR)
      YWAM Tyler (TX – there are actually 3 bases; a Christian school, a large discipleship school, and an unwed mother’s home)

      Because you have littles, and because it’s nice and close for a ‘trial run’, I would highly recommend spending a couple of weeks at Gleanings! There are other families there that might know more about out of the country bases, and you would get a feel for the vision and mission of YWAM. Most families homeschool there tho. At the private school in Tyler, you might live right next door to the school tho, and they do all grades – it is a teacher’s training institute, so that might be a good fit for you. I don’t really know about any of the bases out of the country, but we met people at all bases that had served in multiple places.
      Sorry that isn’t a lot to go on, but hopefully something to get you going! 🙂 Dana

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