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Van Builds

Journey of an Astro Van – Part 1

A wonderful donation has come to Homes on Wheels Alliance in the form of a 1999 Chevy Astro van! Astro vans are very reliable mechanically, have good ground clearance, and a surprising amount of interior space for a vehicle that’s under 16 feet in total length.

The Astro was donated by Richard and Amy after Amy purchased another vehicle and no longer needed the van. But they didn’t stop at donating the van. They took the van to Silver Star Auto for a pre-purchase mechanical inspection and also had the air conditioning repaired. Next, they bought new tires! Richard and Amy have really gone above and beyond to make sure that their donation is in good working condition for a deserving recipient.

Applications for the Astro, which will be awarded in September 2021, can be found HERE. All applications are carefully reviewed by the HOWA staff. The chosen recipient will spend two weeks in Pahrump, Nevada camping with the HOWA staff and an experienced nomad volunteer mentor. We are excited about awarding this van to a nomad!

Watch for Part 2 – The Astro Gets a Hightop!

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April 2021 Minivan Recipients

After carefully considering all of the applicants for the minivans, four recipients were chosen by the HOWA staff. Each recipient was responsible for providing their own transportation to Pahrump, Nevada where they joined a small group of HOWA staff and volunteers. Two recipients came for the first two weeks in April and two more for the second two weeks. Recipients and volunteers camped together on BLM land during this mentoring period which also gave the recipients a chance to experiment with the best arrangement for their furnishings and belongings.  Since coronavirus was still a concern three builds used ready-made furnishings, a 100W foldable solar panel, and a portable power station. The fourth minivan had a Camp N Car’s prototype bed and shelving kit installed. Camp N Car is a new HOWA sponsor and has committed to donating a kit to HOWA for every 10 they sell.

  Meet the new minivan recipients!

Richard

Richard has been a vehicle dweller for 24 years, spending the spring and summer in Washington state and the fall and winter in Tuscon, Arizona, and Florida. He camps on the property of family and friends, helping out with chores and house sitting. While traveling to Florida, he became stuck in traffic on the interstate in Texas during the winter storms of February 2021 and the transmission in his van failed. With his van inoperable he rented a room in a motel to assess his options. A chance encounter with a fellow nomad staying at the same motel led to a conversation about HOWA and the minivan program. Richard applied and was accepted – HOWA’s first male minivan recipient! Most of the applicants to the program are female due to the large population of women who have not been able to build up a retirement fund and receive a low monthly Social Security check so we are pleased that Richard applied and was accepted.

KayT

When the apartment building where KayT rented was sold, she was left homeless and without a vehicle. She borrowed a car from her mother and found a small cargo trailer. A church gave her permission to park the trailer in their lot. KayT spent the winter in the lot, grateful for the place to stay and for the use of electricity to power a space heater and a small refrigerator. But this was a dull and colorless existence for KayT who is an avid camper and nature lover so she eagerly waited for the minivan applications to open in Feb. 2021. After being accepted as a minivan recipient and completing her two-week mentoring program KayT hit the road in her newly outfitted 2006 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

Roxy

Roxy had been living with her daughter in her mobile home in South Carolina when she decided that she wanted to be on her own but at the age of 55 and disabled, she was struggling financially. Vandwelling seemed like a good option so she wrote to Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living for advice on buying a van. Bob encouraged Roxy to save the money that would be used for a van and apply for a minivan instead. Roxy’s new mini home is a 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan that came with orange flames on the sides which she decided to keep. The interior was provided by Camp N Car. The Camp N Car Kit needed a few modifications to fit into the Grand Caravan. The work was done by staff and volunteers along with Steve from Camp N Car. A Homes On Wheels Kit will be donated to HOWA for every ten that Camp N Car sells. Thank you Camp N Car!

Marla

Marla couldn’t make ends meet with her social security disability funds. Her rent and utilities took up too much of her income so, at 49, she applied for a minivan. A little home on wheels would satisfy her desire to travel and also allow her to stretch her funds. Marla is an experienced camper but not technology inclined so she found the information that her mentor shared with her very helpful. Marla’s minivan is a 2006 Honda Odyssey with 101,000 miles, previously awarded this past summer to Esther. Sadly, Esther passed away in March, and as outlined in the application process, the minivan was returned to HOWA.

Thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who came together in Pahrump for four weeks to make the minivan no-builds a success! Applications for the next four minivans will open at the end of August 2021.   Thank you to all who donated to the HOWA minivan fund and those who bought the wishlist Items!

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Four Minivans Awarded!

Due to precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic, the fall minivan build was scaled down to an un-build with a small crew of HOWA staff members and volunteers. Over a two-week period, four recipients of minivans participated in a mentoring program and also spent time arranging  donated Amazon wishlist items into their new homes. Even though minivans are small each becomes a personalized space designed around different needs and decorating styles. Tents from HOWA’s Loaner Tent program served as temporary homes for the recipients until their minivans were ready.

The recipients of the minivans were:

Barbara

Barbara had boondocked for several years in her van but was living in a tent when she applied for a minivan. She received a Honda Odyssey donated by Robin and built out by David and several friends. This minivan was purchased and finished in the eastern US and delivered to the build location by the donors. Besides being thrilled with her new home Barbara is excited about the welcoming community that she’s found with her fellow nomads.

April

April moved into her SUV in June 2020 when rental payments left her with little money for other expenses. During the hot summer days in Missouri, she visited a women’s shelter to take showers and enjoy the air conditioning, but she still preferred the privacy of her own space in the SUV at night. When April was approved for a minivan, she headed to Pahrump, Nevada with barely enough money for gas and some apprehension that the transmission in her SUV could survive the trip. She arrived safely and donated her SUV to HOWA through the CARS program which sells vehicles for charities and returns 70% of the selling price to the donor’s chosen charity. Thank you, April, for the first CARS donation for HOWA!

Cindy

Cindy and her two cats, Bella and Kenze made a home in her Saturn after her roommate died following a long illness.  The car was clearly too small for all three of them and the extra supplies needed for the cats so getting accepted to be a minivan recipient was a godsend. The extra room has allowed Cindy to organize her new home so that everything has a place and is easy to find.

Christy

Christy has been a nomad for two years and lived in her car in Utah for about a year previous to that. She volunteered with HOWA as a caravan host and organizer for the RTR and WRTR. When her 2007 Toyota Sienna needed expensive repairs she was encouraged to apply for a minivan. Since Christy is an experienced nomad many of the components in her Sienna such as the solar system could be transferred to her new minivan home which is also a Sienna.

Thank you all who donated to the minivan fund and the Amazon Wishlist plus a special thank you to the donors of Barbara’s minivan.   Thanks to all the volunteers who helped at the un-build especially the mentors, Ditzy and Lesa, and the construction workers, Duane and Bob.

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A Minivan Home For Esther

Growing up in Alaska and camping with her parents as a very young child prepared Esther for a life of adventure. She’s camped on Kodiak Island where huge brown bears fish for salmon, lived in remote villages without running water, and spent two winter months in her car as a trial run to see if she could do it. When Esther became sick in 2017, she couldn’t continue working at her job as a caregiver and instead started training to become a computer programmer, a job that she could do remotely while on the road. The award of the minivan means Esther can live the independent life she has been dreaming about for years.

To avoid spreading COVID-19, HOWA canceled the April 2020 Build Out, however, plans were made to continue with the Minivan Home on Wheels program on a simpler scale. Outfitting the vans with pre-made furnishings allowed the builds to be finished safely by a smaller number of people. In July a 2006 Honda Odyssey was bought, outfitted, and awarded to Esther who completed a two week mentoring program to prepare her for nomadic life. Transferring the title was a challenge due to DMV coronavirus restrictions but once that was done Esther was ready to move into her new home.

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Meet Walt, a HOWA volunteer.

When Walt was 23, this Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA) multipurpose volunteer left Boston on a backpacking trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. He knew a lot about camping thanks to his involvement with the Boy Scouts. Walt was gone for six months.

Many decades later, he moved to Arizona. It was his base for journeys to most of the national parks and forests. Walt said he wasn’t familiar with boondocking or how to live on BLM lands and spent those early years in RV parks and fee campgrounds. Knowing there had to be a less expensive way, he watched many YouTube videos such as Cheap RV Living.

Open and inviting, Walt enjoys meeting people and helping new people on how to live their best nomad life. “Fire, Food, and Friendship” is his mantra and he said that a night never passes without a fire (unless circumstances prohibit it). No one is out here alone unless they really want to be.

He has served on many boards and organizations. Walt said there are “lifters and leaners in the world.” Leaners are people who complain about how something is run, but when asked for their recommendations, go quiet. Unless people are willing “to lift” their criticism is not as meaningful. He has helped with the annual HOWA meeting and the live feed.

If you want interesting unguarded conversation and wisdom, look for Walt. He’ll be the one extending an invitation for blueberry pancakes at breakfast or chili at dinner.

Post contribution by: Diana Hollenbeck

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Simply Lesa

Originally from Maine, Lesa has been part of the Cheap RV Living nomadic community since 2005. After years on the road, Lesa was blessed with a piece of property and spent her time as a nomad in her SUV.

In 2018, health issues required that she stay on her property in a travel trailer that was not roadworthy. Healthy again, in April of 2019, Lesa hit the road in her SUV. In September, Lesa returned to her property to sell the trailer to travel full-time and, within two weeks of selling the trailer, the SUV developed an oil leak and her dog was diagnosed terminally ill. Lesa contacted Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA) for a tent to sleep in while her application for wheels was being decided.

Lesa just spent her first night in her HOWA no-build build minivan and reports that the bed is “great” and she slept soundly even without the planned window coverings.

Many of Lesa’s life events led to stoicism and her pursuit of minimalism. All of her creative pursuits were taken away in very traumatic ways which led her to connect more with nature while finding meaning and freedom in less. According to Lesa, being a minimalist doesn’t mean living without, but living with things chosen with respectful intention. With gratitude to HOWA, its donors and volunteers, this intelligent and thoughtful woman is looking forward to her next adventure and giving back to the nomadic community in her own special way.

Post contribution by: Diana Hollenbeck

 
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