At the beginning of this year we launched a new feature here at The Touring Camper that highlights ways campers, RVers, hikers, backpackers, or outdoor enthusiasts can get involved in service opportunities and give back to their communities. This month we are showcasing Roving Volunteers In Christ’s Service (RVICS). RVICS President Paul Swetland shared a little bit about the work volunteers are accomplishing through this ministry:
I understand Henry and Margaret Schaeffer officially started RVICS in 1977. They had recently retired and were excited to pursue their dreams of travel and leisure, but they felt their retirement plan lacked “purpose.” After learning about the need for volunteers to do repair and maintenance work at Christian ministries around the country, they had a new vision. How has this vision grown now that RVICS is getting ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary? RVICS began with a vision God gave the Schaeffers about serving and helping ministries throughout the country utilizing the skills of volunteer couples that were retired or semi-retired. The first project included three couples. As these original couples talked with friends and relatives the number of couples involved in RVICS began to grow. The same type of situation occurred with project locations. Many of the leaders of the ministries we serve are well acquainted with one another and as they talked about the RVICS concept we received more requests for our services. The vision has continued to grow since 1977 and as of this point in time many RVICS teams have now served at 2,383 project locations. A project lasts from 3 ½ to 4 weeks.
Who can volunteer with RVICS? Are there certain requirements? (I noticed one caveat is that pets are not permitted.) RVICS is a ministry made up of couples who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our members come from many different denominations. Other requirements include being willing to provide volunteer service, having a self-contained Recreational Vehicle (RVs are what we live in at project locations.), be self-supporting and have adequate accident and hospitalization coverage, and be willing to submit to an approved background check. Our schedules are designed in such a way that it is best suited for couples that are retired or at least semi-retired.
If a full-time RVing family with children wanted to be part of RVICS, would there be opportunities for the couple and/or whole family to serve? If a full-time RVing family with children joined RVICS they would have a “really” busy schedule assuming that the children would need to be home-schooled. In addition to our service at a project location we meet each morning for a devotional time, one night each week for a Bible study, one night each week for a social time, and one day a week is a tour day. It would be quite challenging for a family to accomplish this schedule.
RVICS project sites are located all around the U.S. and Canada. How are these projects picked? We have a long list of project locations most of which we have served for many years. We have more locations than we are able to serve in years’ time so we have set up a rotation schedule to be able to serve at most of the locations on a regular basis. As we are living in our RVs we need to follow the warmer temperatures. So we serve in the south in winter and gradually move north in the spring.
RVICS encourages volunteers to serve three months annually, with weekly commitments of 21 hours for the men and 12 hours for the women. During that time, what type of work do RVICS volunteers usually do? Are there projects for all skill levels and health restrictions? RVICS volunteers are usually involved in remodeling and upgrading facilities at project locations. Often RVICS ladies are involved in painting, cleaning, sewing, and office work. RVICS men are involved with light construction projects, dry walling, painting, and plumbing. We have had some volunteers involved in tutoring, assembling mailings, and gardening. God does a wonderful job of putting the right couples at the right location to meet the skill levels that are needed and health restrictions that different members have. We often learn and teach one another new skills while on project.
Where do RVICS team members live and park their camper during the projects? Each project location is responsible for providing RV sites for each rig with full hook-ups (water, sewer, and electric) on site at no cost to the volunteer missionary members. If the project location does not have their own RV sites they provide parking at a nearby RV campground.
It seems working with RVICS not only provides a way for couples to give back and do good, but also provides time for couples who want to explore and tour new areas. Do you find RVICS volunteers to be adventurous explorers? In addition to serving at a variety of project locations across the country we set aside Friday of each week as a “Tour Day,” which allows us the opportunity to have an organized tour of interesting sights in the area. Exploring is a favorite pastime for RVICS members.
Can you share a highlight or special moment from the work RVICS did this past year? Two special moments come to mind. In January 2016 a team was given an award as “Volunteer of the Year RVICS in appreciation of your service.” Just last week we received a card from a ministry honoring RVICS during their “Missions Month” signed by a teacher and members of her kindergarten class.
Tell me a little bit about the vision behind The Village, a unique community where RVICS members can call home between projects, or when age and health issues make it difficult to serve on a regular basis. I imagine you are one of the first RV ministries to implement such a program? As RVICS members we serve together, worship together, and socialize with one another. After a period of three to four weeks we become close friends and family. Many RVICS couples expressed a desire to develop a location where they could create a community to continue that same concept in their time of retirement from RVICS service, time between service at project locations, or time for recuperation while dealing with health issues. Texas was chosen as a central location in the U.S. and after some exploration a site was discovered in Smithville, Texas. To our knowledge we are the only community of this type among like-minded ministries such as RVICS. Some of our Village residents are still actively serving at project locations and some divide their time between the Village and another location nearer family. Others are full-time residents. It is a unique community for RVICS members.
Is there anything else about RVICS you would like to share with our readers? One of the unique things about this type of ministry is that we do utilize the skills and volunteer spirit of retired or semi-retired couples. This means that the time couples are able to serve with RVICS is limited to a few short years. Therefore we have a regular turnover of couples and are in constant need of new couples to join us in service. If this concept sounds appealing to a couple who may be reading this article, we encourage you to explore our website at www.rvics.com and learn more about us. We enjoy having new couples join us in serving Christian colleges, schools, camps, conference centers, etc.
Thank you Paul for sharing about the work RVICS volunteers are doing! If you are interested in finding out more about this ministry, please visit the RVICS website.