Alright fellow vagabonds, The Vagabus is over. We have reincarnated, evolved, and we are ready to get this show back on the road for 2017! Here is your much-awaited update!
Well, 2016 is over, finally. It was a rough year for all of us…from the plethora of celebrity deaths, to the political shitstorm that we consider an "election". What a year of drama and turmoil, but it's time to ring in the new year with hopes that things will be better in 2017.
That could not be anymore true for the Vagabus. We survived the trolls, along with their slander and death threats. We survived an Anarchist attempt to take over our entire project. We survived members that came and used our project only for fun and partying, only to ditch us without any notice during times that we needed every hand we could get. We survived the cops and security guards that wag their finger and issue citations to us simply for living in a bus (living in a vehicle within city-limits is now apparantly illegal everywhere you freakin go…)
We survived the rednecks and elitist assholes that flip the finger at our bus and toss beer bottles at us, simply because they assume we are hippies or drug addicts because we live in a colorfully painted bus.
We survived mechanical problems that took thousands of dollars to fix, at times when most of us were broke as a joke.
Oh, and the media. We survived days when 3 newspapers would come out in a single day, at a single time, tripping over each other trying to get interviews while we were weeding farmbeds or shoveling dog shit. At this point, I cant even count how many newspapers, tv news, radio stations, ezines, and blogs that have covered us. Several dozen, at the least. It was all fun and lights at first, but it got really tiring, really fast, and the hype just spiraled out of control for all of us.
I could go on, and on, and on. A majority of my hair has turned gray now, at 35 years old.
However, for all of the negativity and hardships we have had to overcome, there have been many silver linings that we certainly do not take for granted.
For starters, we did what many considered absolutely impossible. That is, the notion that a group of homeless trainhopping and hitchhiking Redditors could not only get a bus, but get two buses. The notion that we could actually become a nonprofit with a TAX ID number. The notion that we could survive an entire year. The notion that we would actually be dedicated to VOLUNTEERING, as opposed to becoming yet another hippie-festival-rainbow shitshow.
Well, we have done it. We survived, and we did it without straying from the original mission/goal: VOLUNTEERING!
Many of you have been wondering why we dropped off the face of the earth in the past couple of months, but I can assure you we had our reasons.
After all the hype, which included having 18 members, 7 vehicles, and 7 dogs, we had to hit the brakes and bring this thing to a screeching halt that would involve a serious re-thinking of the project, its members, and its future sustainability.
For starters, the screening process for accepting members basically became completely non-existent at one point. We had members inviting total strangers off the street to join our bus, many of these new members never having read about our project, its history, its mission and goals, our guidelines, etc. This, inevitably, turned into a hodge-podge group of newer members that frankly didn't care about volunteering at all.
The group became divided quickly. On one side were the original long-term members that saw our project derailing into "yet-another-hippe-party bus", while on the otherside were newer members that refused any form of coordination or structure.
Communal meetings (held each Sunday), turned completely unproductive. Shouting matches, finger-pointing, and persona politics was tearing us apart, getting gradually and consistently worse week after week.
There were times when some of my hardest working volunteers would simply break down and cry on my shoulder, heart-broken by witnessing our project spiral downward into negativity and fighting. I developed severe anxiety attacks in which the only thing I could do was curl up and hide in my sleeping bag, trying to just avoid the shitstorm.
We couldn't take it anymore. The straw that broke our backs was waking up one morning to discover one of our longest-term and hardest working volunteers quit our project, in tears, because of how negative a small group of members had become.
Something had to be done, either now or never, and the project would either live or die, right there in that stupid abandoned parking lot. All for what?
Myself and 3 other Redditors finally decided to end the bullshit, and start cutting some lines. We told many of the newer members that were the forefront of the problem that their time was over unless they got their shit together and agreed to form a better structure and form of coordination, and get back to volunteering.
They packed their bags, and they left, but not before threatening to perform some "anarchistr" takeover of the bus and the project. That didn't work, of course.
All of this drama played a pretty heavy role on all of us. Not only had the group been torn apart by a handful of newer members, but we were simply emotionally and physically exhausted from the drama and eventual civil war that occurred.
I ultimately decided the project will be taking a break. Not only did we need to sit down and analyze everything that happened, we needed to setup better forms of structure and coordination, along with finding better ways to financially sustain the project in the future.
I put a pause on all of our social media, declined local media interviews, and put a halt on accepting anymore volunteer applications. We needed to work on us, and focus solely on that. We still volunteered for local projects, but we cared very little about updating the public or worrying about Reddit or Facebook.
For me, personally, as the founder of this project, it lit a fire under my ass. Something that had been needing to happen for a long time, and I finally burst out of the recent anxiety and depression that had made me numb and apathetic.
Ii decided that if we are going to be a legitimate nonprofit, then let's start acting like it. Why half-ass it anymore?
I started meeting weekly with other nonprofit coordinators, board members, and directors. Many of these nonprofits were small, local-based, grassroots projects that had much more experience with nonprofit structuring, conflict resolution, grant-writing, fundraising, etc.
We found out that our project wasn't much different than most nonprofit startups. The first year is always pure hell, a struggle that deals with the very things we were dealing with: Funding, structure, coordination, and organization.
I spent months studying these things. From meeting directly with other nonprofit directors, to reading hundreds and hundreds of pages about structure and grant-writing. Jesus Christ, it was like having to take an entire damn college course, during a time when i was at the point of utter exhaustion.
I realized quickly that we needed a complete overhaul, while still maintaining our original mission.
We reactivated the volunteer application, rewrote our guidelines and rules, and we started screening and interviewing members weeks before they were set to arrive. There would be no more picking up total strangers off the street. That was the first step.
The next step was becoming financially sustainable. The days of me having to fly a sign at the entrance of a walmart or a gas station simply so we could get fuel was over.
Instead, I took that hobo knowledge of flying signs at Walmart, along with our nonprofit status, and we flew a sign like an actual nonprofit, and not like a group of hippie bums: http://imgur.com/Wa9m7Xa
We reached out to friends and family on facebook, looking for legal advice on grantwriting, and suddenly and old friend of mine from high-school happens to be a lawyer that connected us with one of his legal partners that does pro-bono work specifically for nonprofits!
We started approaching businesses and using our TAX ID number like other nonprofits, often receiving huge discounts or services for completely free.
I looked at it as professional spanging and sign-flying. I guess some would consider us to be selling-out, but what do you expect from a group of broke volunteers living on a wing and a prayer? Your damn right I will take full advantage of our nonprofit status, and level up on the hobo strategies I learned for over 10 years.
Volunteers On Wheels
After figuring out our structure and reorganizing the project, the biggest change of all was probably our name.
Although I'm responsible for coming up with the name "Vagabus", I have to admit I gradually started hating it. Nobody ever knew what it meant, and I had to explain it to people a dozen times a day. For that matter, most people couldnt even pronounce it right, which often led people thinking it was play of words for "Vagina Bus". Most people don't even know what a Vagabond is anyway…
We played around with a few ideas, but ultimately chose Volunteers On Wheels.
We finally had a named that defined exactly who we are and what we do. Once you say it to someone, it tells them exactly who you are without having to deal with 5 more questions about pronunciation or word definitions.
We also decided to put a limit on how many people and vehicles we bring aboard the project. The task of feeding and organizing 12-18 people was an extremely difficult and chaotic undertaking. Can you just imagine how much food 18 people can eat in one day, and the storage space required for that much food and water? Not to mention the financial costs on the food and propane, which was astronomical.
At this point, on January 1st 2017, it is our resolution to bring this project back to life.
We have been volunteering harder than ever, every single day. We didn't put our shovels or paintbrushes down for the holidays, as we have tackled over a dozen separate volunteer projects, including animal rescue centers, and community gardens.
During Thanksgiving, Chrismas, and New Years, we have successfully completed 3 separate Habitat For Humanity projects: http://imgur.com/a/VgsgB
Oh, we also have kittens now, as well: http://imgur.com/a/E8BkW
Starting Off the New Year:
We have now decided to open the project back up to accepting new volunteers, and we are now officially ready to build a new and better team than we have ever haved before.
We have the food, we have the beds, we have the volunteer jobs and now we need YOU!
If you're like us, and wish to make 2017 a more kickass and productive year than 2016, consider joining a project that is going to be here for a long, long, long time to come.
Here is the application: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeFFBHl9Y22W3HRd-P6lLrG30jX-Ji-zcCEND2qCylu_OC30A/viewform
If you'd wish to join but simply can't, we will still be here whenever you are ready. Until then, maybe you could kick us down a dollar for food and fuel? https://fundly.com/volunteers-on-wheels#
Hats off to everyone in 2017, whether you can or cant donate or join. We wish you the best, and feel free to live through us vicariously!
As for us, as for now, it's time to fucking roll. You'll be hearing from us, Reddit, I assure you.