The Do Good Tour: 10,000 Miles of Good Deeds
How a Mission Was Born
Close to a dozen kids crowd around three giant tubs of ice cream in the cafeteria of the Orange County Rescue Mission, in Tustin, California. With bowls and spoons in hand, they eye their favorite flavor and the canister of whipped cream on a nearby table (will anyone notice if they squirt it in their mouth?). The children eventually form a line. When they finally make their way to the front they find they're being served by other kids -- Ben, Bekah, Abigail, and Noah Loecken -- under the watchful eyes of their parents, Jay and Beth. Each of the Loeckens wears a T-shirt that reads "THE ARK TOUR." One 9-year-old boy who's been ogling the tub of vanilla asks 10-year-old Abigail what her shirt means. She says, "The ARK is the name of the RV my family lives in, and the tour just means we ride all over serving people." They consider each other for a minute, until he breaks the silence. "I'll take two scoops, please."
The Loeckens may not live in a shelter but they are, for most intents and purposes, homeless themselves. They sold their 4,500-square-foot home in an upscale Atlanta suburb in April 2008 and moved into a 320-square-foot RV. Since then the six of them have spent their days traveling from state to state committing what they call "acts of random kindness" (thus the "ARK" moniker), helping people who are less fortunate than they are. They've "been of service" from Panama City Beach, Florida, to Seattle, and have dished out food at dozens of homeless shelters, handed out homemade care packages to street people, dusted off donated paperbacks at charitable book banks, and even volunteered to clean cages at local humane societies. The Loeckens have documented their journey -- and the stories of people they meet -- on their Web site and blog, thearktour.org, and now hundreds of curious readers track the family's charitable acts.
So what caused this radical shift from four bedrooms and three baths to one vehicle with a tiny stall shower? In a word: Africa. Two years ago everyone but little Noah went on a charity mission organized by the Loeckens' community church (it also included six other families) to one of the poorest neighborhoods near Nairobi, Kenya.
"Africa rocked our world," says Beth, 40, who was a stay-at-home mom. She and Jay, 42, a mortgage broker, had been living like many other American families up until that point: working too much on weekdays, shopping too much on weekends, and amassing a whole lot of stuff they didn't need. "We saw families with nothing, living in huts with a dirt floor and no beds. But they still had joy. We've always known joy doesn't come from what you have, but somehow, over the course of our lives, we'd lost that." The Loeckens agree that all the time and energy they put into chasing the American dream of "bigger is better" never felt satisfying. "We were unfulfilled," says Jay. "But in Africa we felt a sense of purpose."
After the family returned to Alpharetta, Georgia, that summer, Jay, Beth, and the kids had countless discussions about how they could continue serving the needy. The family volunteered at a rescue mission in Atlanta, and Jay and Beth passed out provisions to the homeless living under bridges. But they wanted to do more. That's when Beth and Jay recalled an old dream they had of traveling the country in an RV. They coupled that thought with their new purpose committing acts of kindness. But what about their four kids? Beth had always homeschooled, so disrupting their education was not the issue. It was the idea of leaving everything -- and everyone they knew -- behind that was tough to grasp. "I didn't want to go at first," says Bekah, 12. "We'd be so far from all my friends." Ben, 14, and Abigail, 10, were excited about traveling but had misgivings about not having their own bedrooms. And Noah, 6, fretted mostly about leaving his toys behind. But after a few months of discussion and prayer, the Loeckens unanimously agreed: "Let's do it!"