Most RV owners know the joy that comes from traveling and exploring new locations. Yet at times, it's easy to have the feeling of, "Is that all there is?" Here's a way my husband and I managed to travel and also have a purpose as we moved from sate to state.
Ever since becoming empty nesters, my husband Allan and I have looked for ways to travel as often (and as cheap!) as possible. Fortunately we spent several years working as brand ambassadors, a little-known field where companies pay people to travel the country, usually in branded vehicles, and promote a product or service. We know what life on the road entails and love it!
So, with our experience as brand ambassadors, we created a customized proposal to be volunteers with Royal Family KIDS. This non-profit based in Santa Ana, California serves neglected, abused and abandoned children between the ages of 6-12-years old. Royal Family KIDS runs over 200, one week camps in the United States, serving over 8,000 foster children every year. We volunteered with the camp in our hometown of Bellingham, Washington, so knew about the quality camps they run. During the school year, many camps offer “club” meetings once a month so volunteers can maintain contact with the children through pizza parties and fun activities.
We contacted the CEO, Chris Carmichael and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (Well, he probably could have refused, but thankfully he didn’t!) Our offer was simple. We would buy an RV and volunteer for six months to travel around the US, visiting camps, training staff in creative camp activities and assisting with Royal Family KIDS events such as fund raisers. It seemed a perfect fit since I’ve spent the last 25 years traveling around the world giving presentations on helping children gain resilience through innovative activities.
Within two short months we found ourselves in Southern California, getting our plain-looking white RV “wrapped” and transformed into a rolling billboard for Royal Family. Now we can’t get gas without someone asking, “What is Royal Family and why are you driving this cool looking RV?” Of course that gives us the ideal opportunity to talk about the fun and safe time foster kids have at camp. Sometimes children don’t want to take off their long sleeved shirts for swim time. Counselors understand that is because many children come to camp with scars and burns on their bodies from abuse. Other young campers hoard food, since they are never sure when they’ll have another meal. Royal Family KIDS’ Camps solve that problem by announcing an “All the bacon you can eat!” policy.
Many children at camp have never experienced a birthday celebration. Camp puts an end to that! Each camp sets aside one night to throw an “Everybody’s Birthday” party, complete with cake, balloons, games and of course presents. It’s hard not to ache in your heart when a young camper holds a new toy and says, “This is the first birthday present I’ve ever had!”
Allan and I thrive on variety, so this volunteer position fits our personalities perfectly. As a professional speaker, I can still fly off and give a keynote or workshop at a conference. My latest book deals with Millennials in the workplace. MILLENNIALS VS. BOOMERS...BOOMERS VS. MILLENNIALS. Working with Millennials connected with Royal Family provides me with first-hand experience in working with these enthusiastic young adult volunteers. Driving from state to state gives us the chance to see all aspects of the Royal Family camp program.
In Roswell, New Mexico, we participated in a toy drive where community members donated over 300 gifts for the camp birthday presents. In Cedar Hill, Texas we trained 125 counselors on a variety of games, crafts and activities to do with their campers during free time. A Lion’s Club in Santa Ana, California asked for a presentation, so we shared how their group could help these children. Other times finds us doing TV interviews. The most fun is honoring local Royal Family KIDS’ volunteers. In our best “Publishers Clearing House” style, we drive the RV to a volunteer’s home or workplace, honking the horn to attract attention and draw a big crowd. The volunteers are totally amazed to come outside and see their name on the side of the RV, acknowledging them for all their hard work.
In just a few weeks, camps will be in session and we’ll transform the RV into the “Fun-Mobile”. We have props and supplies to play parachute games, and perform silly skits. To tie in with each camp’s Olympic theme, campers get their picture taken with an actual Olympic torch I carried for the 2002 Olympics in Seattle. Those photos are part of a personalized memory book each camper receives, depicting the fun they experienced at camp.
Children leave camp with new skills and a stronger feeling about their self-worth. As for Allan and I, we’re not only traveling, but traveling with the purpose of helping children experience a week of s’mores, tea parties, tailgate parties, all surrounded by positive adult role models. When this tour ends in September, we’ll look for paid positions as brand ambassadors. That way we can save up to volunteer for another non-profit in the future. Stay tuned!
Silvana Clark has been a professional speaker for the last 25 years, giving keynotes and workshops around the world. In addition, she's written 12 books and appeared on numerous TV and radio shows. She and her husband have been brand ambassadors for several companies, getting paid to travel in an RV. Now they are volunteering, but still enjoy traveling with a purpose.
Working with Millennials?
Check out my latest book, Millennials Versus Boomers
*This article was originally published on Next Avenue: A Joyful RV Road Trip For Foster Children
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