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The altruistic rolling commune that travels around the West Coast in two brightly colored school buses and prides itself on doing good deeds is back in town.
In this LoCO Video Report we catch up with the group in Arcata, whey they stopped to lend a helping hand at the Angels of Hope thrift store.
You may remember them as the ‘Vagabus‘ from last year, when the founder Steven Boutwell was here trying to kick start efforts and recruit members. Well now the group is a sponsored non-profit and goes by “Volunteers on Wheels.”
The buses are the foundation for the whole operation, serving as both shelter and transportation to the adventurous free spirits wanting to get a unique experience.
“It’s a way for them to travel and feel good about giving back,” said Boutwell.
Over the past year and a half the organization’s had numerous members hailing from across the US, but, they’ve come and gone. Luckily with Boutwell’s determination and networking, Volunteers on Wheels is on its way back up to 12 members.
Liliana’s a hitchhiker from Virginia who discovered the bus online and immediately hopped on a greyhound to Oregon to join.
“I love volunteering, helping out, traveling, and its something I’ve always wanted to do on my own. So the fact that this was already going on, was a plus for me,” she says.
Boutwell now requires new members to fill out an application so he can determine if they’re a good fit. Bear, from North Carolina, is taking a break from his trade as a parkour instructor to “give back,” however he still can’t help himself from doing front, back and sideways flips on-and-off the bus. Rebecca, also from North Carolina, has been on the bus for a few months and says she’s most enjoyed learning gardening and farming skills.
The vocational value of the volunteer work they’ve attracted and the projects they’ve participated in, has given Boutwell a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“Eugene, Oregon was definitely the biggest project we’ve ever done — we did almost 2000 hours for Habitat for Humanity on three different houses, including a retail store,” he says.
However, Volunteers on Wheels does all this work without expecting a dime. Boutwell says he hasn’t received a paycheck in over two years, and he’s in no rush to get one. The group manages to live off donations, and work trade for showers, food, power, WiFi and parking.
And although Boutwell says the reality of food and other insecurities is a daily battle, he says the most difficult thing is being profiled and stereotyped, just for driving a “hippie bus.” Monday morning Boutwell had to deal with the cops after a citizen complaint.
“I was here, I was ready to help, and now I’ve got to deal with a local business owner calling the police on us for no reason, just throwing false accusations around about us,” he said. “It hurts and it takes some of my wind away.”
But Boutwell is no stranger to the lifestyle. For over a decade he was train hopper and hitchhiker, working on farms with migrant workers and relying on non-profits. His past was inspiration for the project.
“So after 10 years of them helping me out so much, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to helping them out,” he says. “Going to all the towns that I had been through in my travels and volunteering back for them.”
While in town the group is also volunteering at Companion Animal Foundation, Food for People, various community gardens, Sequoia Humane Society, and more.
The volunteers however do have one request, finding a secure place to park is pretty much impossible, so if someone in the community has a good chunk of space and would be ever so kind to allow them to park Skally and Betsy for a week, they’ll work for it!