giving back

Philanthropy and Travel: Stephanie Sheaffer Makes a Difference From an RV

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How do you combine travel and philanthropy? Mohammed Ali said that "service is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." By that analogy, Stephanie and Tim Sheaffer have paid not just rent, but a sizable down payment on a whole house, by living in a 36-foot-long RV. Prompted by a budding desire to see the country and a burning desire to help people in need across the country, they deferred normal family life for a year to help as many needy people and meet as many helpers as they could.

It's not that they were superhuman or anything. Granted, in high school, Stephanie had been student body president, homecoming queen, editor of the school newspaper, and a straight A student. She had a B.A. degree in English, summa cum laude, and a husband by age 20. She also got an M.A. in Counseling and worked for several years as a high school counselor. But for the most part, Stephanie and her husband Tim were a normal young family in Tucson, Arizona. They had two daughters, and she worked from home for a local school district and blogged. She said, "[We had] the American Dream – a comfortable house in a suburban neighborhood, two cars, two kids, two masters degrees, good jobs, close friends. Yet, every night, [we] stayed up late and talked about how the world was hurting—how people are poor, sick, lonely, uncertain, hungry, helpless, and hopeless. We knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we couldn't just sit here."

So sit they didn't. Knowing that a cross-country giving tour would acquaint them with far more nonprofits and needs than their one town had to offer, they pledged to:

  • Spend intimate, quantity time with their family.
  • Help the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the helpless.
  • Value, protect, and advocate for children.
  • De-emphasize the importance of “stuff” in their lives.
  • Bring publicity to good causes and good people.
  • Live with intentionality, as if that year was their very last.
  • Observe the needs in their country/community – and then do something about them.
  • Give – every day.

"From the beginning, we knew it would be a learning journey," said Stephanie. They sold all their furniture, rented out their house, bought the RV, quit their jobs, and set out. They drove over 20,000 miles, through 30 states, volunteered with over 50 non-profit organizations, gave every day as a family for 150-days, and visited 18 different churches in a variety of denominations, chronicling all of it as they went at Their acts of service, often necessarily simple so that they could include their two daughters aged one and four, ranged from phone calls to grandparents to giving a stranger a birthday present. What was most impressive was not necessarily the grandeur of the acts, but their range, quantity, and the commitment behind them.

Now back home in Arizona, she continues to blog about philanthropy and traveling with kids, as well as children's books, babies, family, fitness, food, and other things at MetropolitanMama. She and Tim also await the arrival of their third child. When asked what the most important things were that they learned from their journey, Stephanie instantly replies: "gratitude for what we have, the ability to live simply, and the understanding that the most effective way to give is in the relationships you already have."

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