Libby Peierls’ Inspiration

I was in boy scouts and was required to volunteer throughout grade school. I enjoyed being around my friends, but I didn’t understand why I was volunteering. My parents volunteered in numerous capacities and tried to impress upon me the importance of giving back. I rarely volunteered with opportunities that matched my passions, nor did I actively search for them. Even though volunteering was important to my family, it wasn’t a high priority for me at the time.

My parents were talking in our kitchen nook one day and in the middle of conversation, my mom collapsed. Thankfully my dad was there and caught her, but he soon realized she had become victim to a seizure. He remembered what they were from when he was a child and his dad had seizures. It turned out that my mother was exhibiting symptoms based on the cancer that had been growing in her brain.

Everything changed. Our eating habits. Our interactions. Our extracurricular activities. Even how our friends acted toward us. I remember meal after meal was brought to our house by family friends, and neighbors, and people we had never met. I know there were a few families behind the scenes coordinating everything and I am thankful for everything they did, despite me not remembering who they were.

What really stood out to me was this. It was because of my mom that those families wanted to help us. It was my mom who showed all of them love and gave her time in effort for nothing in return. She created a community who cared about one another and I cherish her ability to do so.

On June 28, 2005, after 2 and half years of fighting brain cancer, in and out of remission, my mom, Elizabeth Peierls, passed away. Again, friends stopped by with their blessings and food. Others with words of reflection about my mom.

What I gathered was that my mother was a sun. She attracted others in an orbital fashion while giving off love and heat to nurture their souls. With bright red hair, she stood out among most and laughed like no one I have ever heard before, or since. Her ability to bring others together in hope and inspiration, especially in the times of need and grief, was her gift.

It has been 10 years since her passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. More importantly, I have made the effort to understand how she would have raised me and what kind of values she would have passed on. Based on the combination of hers and my dad’s guidance, I began to mold myself the way I believed best.

I traveled to 4 continents in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that I would push my comfort zone. What I didn’t realize was that each environment that absorbed me expanded my definitions of need, want, and privilege more than I could myself. I saw similar needs in many countries relating to poor health sanitation, lack of education and medicine, and close proximity living quarters made from trash. I also witnessed the need for equality and understanding, the absence of inspiration, and the desire to be happy. I’m not saying that everything I saw was bad, and in fact, many of my best memories today originated from that trip. What I am saying is that I had never seen the need for action in my life more than I saw it then.

I knew that when I returned I wanted to sell my belongings and purchase a van to travel the country. I wanted to volunteer. A lot. And I got really into filming my adventures. Then it hit me. I could volunteer, film the volunteering, and encourage college students to volunteer! That might be something my parents would do.

I returned home – complete in a hazy state of culture shock. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it alone. I approached my friend Brad Burns, who I have known since we attended Camp Champions back when we were 10. “You want to travel the country, volunteer, and film it all?”.

“Sure!” So we started with this idea.

I bought an RV, which Brad’s brother creatively gave the name Harvey. Turned out that all of the planning that we had been doing toward the east coast, across the northern part of the country, and wrapping up in Alaska, was for naught. We had to cancel all of our tour dates with nearly 20 nonprofits because our friend Patrick’s mom discovered mold in Harvey.

For the next 4 months, we tore Harvey wall from wall rebuilding his insides and outsides. Meanwhile, Brad’s uncle brought up the idea of applying for 501(c)3 Public Charity status and altering the idea a little. We incorporated, formed a Board of Directors, and Passion Impact was born. The original mission was to help college students build a long-term habit of volunteering.

It took us 4 and a half months after leaving on June 15, 2014, to reach and get secured in Portland. Harvey broke down a lot. Over 10 times with the first being only 20 minutes from our original embarkation point. Throughout that time, we volunteered with multiple organizations in each city that we stayed and continued to build the framework for our vision. Granted, we had not made it to Portland or even thought about it as a home base at that time. We still wanted to travel and film.

For each person we met on our trip, I channeled my mom and her ability to listen. I was genuinely interested in each of their stories and experiences. You could say that I looked for the sun in each of them. We began to notice that the more we passed through towns and cities and the less we stayed in them, the less of a chance we had at actually changing the behavior of students. So, we set our eyes on Portland for the long haul.

Once reaching Portland, we all secured part-time jobs and began our work. The plan that we had originally put together melted away as we soon figured out what life would actually be like in the PNW. Despite all of our separate calendars, we found a way to grow Passion Impact slowly over the next 7 months.

I quit my part time job at the end of April and as of May 1, began working full time for Passion Impact. With this time, we have been able to design Xplore and Ignite: Adventuring, Understanding, and Building Community. In designing this program, I thought heavily on the past two years of my life and how what I had done allowed me to give to others. Referring back to the importance of giving that my mom and dad had taught me while growing up, I see a possibility for this program to thrive.

Xplore and Ignite High school program is designed to help students explore their city, it’s needs, and their passions to understand how they can better their community. This means meeting with nonprofits in their community and volunteering; reflecting on these experiences and why these organizations exist to give back; talking with community members about the problems they see and experience; and then designing projects as a team that take everything they learn and put it into a plan that students can choose to take on if they would like.

Xplore and Ignite 18+ Program will be meeting for 10 Sunday evenings to enjoy genuine and intelligent discussion over a FREE dinner in order to create something beautiful for the community with new friends.

Considering these are pilot programs, we have no clue if this first iteration will work. But then again, it is an adventure in and of itself. As we persist with our mission, we will eventually reach the point where we continually help students can volunteer their passions, love their community, and grow into happy and engaged community members.

Students deserve to chase something they are passionate about and to love it thoroughly. We want to help them get there and believe that this program is the first step.

This is something I could see my mom doing. This is dedicated to you Libby.

-Stefan


Apparently Harvey thought we weren’t finished in L.A.

Today, we left LA. Driving north on Fair Oaks Blvd from South Pasadena to Pasadena. We were in search of a fair gas station. The 76 gas station was behind us, so we turned around at the next available street. Harvey sounded so good. All we needed was gas and we would be on our way to Santa Barbara.
That pump on the end, next to the exit, was ours. The ticker started climbing as Harvey devoured a plethora of plus fuel. “Well, you sure are hungry”, I told him.

“Must be fun.” The woman on the other side of the pump said as admired Harvey.
“Excuse me?”
“All that freedom in an RV, it must be fun.”
“No strings attached, but it has its drawbacks.” I smiled and nodded my head.
“The gas?”
“Absolutely. We love him though.”

She was a teacher. High School Special Education. I thanked her for her service and hopped back in Harvey, turned the key, and heard the solenoid clink. The gas gauge rose with fervour. What a beautiful sight. I passed the $94 receipt back to Brad to log with the others and my eyes returned to the dash. The gas gauge had stopped at halfway. “What? This cannot be true…”

I remembered a similar problem in Phoenix and a mechanic told me how to fix it. Hopping down from the driver’s seat, I squatted behind Harvey’s rear tires. I scooted on my stomach to the back gas tank, passing under the shattered remains of what used to be our black water tank. For those of you who know very little about RVs (which was us only months ago), the black water tank retains all the shit. Quite literally.

I made it under the rear gas tank unscathed, but found that it would be much easier on my back to reach the electrical switch that I had been told about.
My father has always told me that my uncle and I got our broad shoulders from their father. So as I tried to turn over, you can imagine the discomfort that I soon found myself in. Stuck between a warm rear axle, a gas tank, and the hot cement with a sleeveless shirt, I pondered my predicament for about 10 seconds. I gave into my pestering thoughts of retreating to the side of the RV, past the black water tank. Quickly, I scooted and flipped over. I then returned to the gas tank and fiddled with the electrical connection. Scooting out, once again, I shuffled to the driver’s door. Clink. The solenoid. Now the gas gauge was at 0. I repeated this process four more times until I was satisfied with it reading only half. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.

Only a few turns and we were breaching Highway 134. This would soon turn into the 101, which we would take all the way to Santa Barbara. The onramp changed forms, becoming an upramp, which has always been a struggle for Harvey. I relived the terrifying moments that Brad and I had spent travelling 45 mph on I-10 West to reach Tucson and Phoenix. I recounted the chant that I recited to myself: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” We reached 40 mph. The top of the hill was close, sun beaming at us from the west. 43 mph. Two cars skirted around us and changed back into our lane. 45 mph. “I think I can, I think I can.” The gas pedal began to give out. Harvey sputtered as he approached his apparent max of 49 mph. Brad turned to me as I smiled and said, “That wasn’t me.”

“Is it doing it again?” Brad asked.
“I think.”

The gas gauge dropped to a quarter tank and our once galloping speed of 49 mph dwindled as we took the nearest exit.
“Can we take backroads to Santa Barbara?” Brad asked. I laughed because I knew he was being facetious to lighten the mood.

“We are only 5 miles from our last mechanic. We have to stay here.” I gently gripped the steering wheel as we turned across an overpass and through a light.
The road meandered through the neighborhood that lies directly east of the Rose Bowl. Large hills, green lawns, an abundance of bright red stop signs. Arroyo Seco came into view and I remembered exploring the street on my bike a week prior. We wandered the curves for a couple streets until a moderately inclined hill appeared to our right.

There was an incline. A stop sign. Then another incline. Then the top of the hill. I think I can.

25 mph to the stop sign. A lady in a purple SUV pulled up behind us. She would also have to go 25 mph. 5 mph across the intersection. 10 mph as we reached the second incline…and stop goes Harvey’s engine. I immediately pulled the hazard lights tab and slammed on the breaks. Harvey wouldn’t stop moving backward. I stood up on the brake pedal, rising out of the driver’s seat to apply more pressure. Slowly, the whining breaks brought him to a halt and my left foot locked in the emergency brake.

The purple SUV began to creep up the second incline, but slowed to mirror our position on the street. The woman rolled down her passenger window with an expression of concern. After all, what would you think if you witnessed a 28’ RV suddenly turn on its emergency lights while attempting to climb a moderately sized hill?

She began to say, “Would you like some h–.” Before the word “help” could flow from her lips, a very impatient mercedes honked its horn. I told the woman “Thank you, but we’ll be fine.” She smiled and continued on, and as the mercedes drove by, I peered into the eyes of the driver. She was wearing all white in her white Mercedes with black headphones in and a stern look of entitlement across her brow. I imagined her scoffing at us for blocking ‘her’ lane. It was not evident that she was in a rush either. She wanted life to remain convenient for her. Both Brad and I sat in awe.

After some thinking, deliberation, and a call to the mechanic, we decided it was best to back down the hill into the intersection and then continue backing up on the driver’s side of the perpendicular street. Brad suited up with our Passion Impact vest (conveniently a neon yellow reflective worker’s vest). We waited until there were no cars and we hopped on the opportunity. 3 mph, 5 mph, 7 mph, 3 mph, stop. We were now in the middle of the intersection. I applied the brakes too soon and our back left tires rolled into a divot in the road.
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For the next 20 minutes, over 100 cars drove through the intersection as we pushed, pulled, turned, inspected and danced with Harvey. To our amazement, only one other car asked if we needed help. Even a runner who jogged by readjusted his headphones to make certain that we were not to disturb him. We weren’t soliciting help, but could have definitely used it. I thought about those 20 minutes all day. What about the flipped version of that scenario where I drive up next to a car or an RV that is obviously struggling?

While still in Austin, Brad, Mel, and I helped fix a man’s tire after seeing him and his friends in need on a side street. But now we were in the middle of an intersection, in need of the same assistance. Yet, barely anyone took action to help. I ask my next question merely to focus on the behavior and motivation of the passing individuals and not to bring about a self-pity party (Brad and I still had fun, after all):

Why didn’t anyone help strangers clearly in need?


From El Paso to Phoenix

From where we parked on the University of Texas El Paso campus, we were right across I-10 from Mexico. We woke up from a nap ready to hit the road at 23:00 – it was time to move on to Phoenix.

Brad was driving the first stretch with the goal to switch every couple of hours. In a car, Phoenix would take about 6 hours, but in Harvey we had to give him time to love the road. As usual, semis continued to pass us. This time we jokingly noted their intense gasoline smells. Soon thereafter, we started to become quite drowsy – something wasn’t feeling right. The gasoline smell persisted and we thought it would be best to pull over in Las Cruces, NM.

We got out and rounded Harvey to find his rear gas tank to be overflowing with the cap still on! This was worrying. I think that I may have overfilled it earlier that day, but we still haven’t found a reasonable explanation as to why the pressure built up at night. I ventured into the gas station to grab some coffee and watched the cashier walk to the door to yell at a lady near the pump.

As Brad stood next to the pool of gasoline, a woman smoking a cigarillo approached him. He looked at her as if she were missing a few brain cells and pointed to the exposed gas laying feet from her. “Could you do that somewhere else?”

“Excuse me! Please smoke that away from the gas station!” yelled the cashier.

I hurried out and we left as soon as possible. We found a place to relax for a couple hours as we thought the problem would subside. Sure enough, after some midnight frisbee, we were back on the road.

We kept Harvey at about 55 mph passing through Arizona and missing a couple of opossums chilling in the fast lane – really? You can’t find a better place to spawn out?

I was driving when the clicking started again. We were extremely privy to this click, so we knew it had to be the exhaust manifold again. Thankfully we weren’t in the middle of a desert…

The hills that stood between us and the next city of Benson challenged Harvey to the point of 20 mph exhaustion. Brad directed us to the nearest Napa Auto Parts in Benson by about 5 in the morning. The heat had begun to creep through the windows as we napped for a few hours, but we were soon interrupted by the sweat that overtook us once again.

I went to open the shop door only to find that it was Sunday and that all Napa stores in Benson were closed. Brad and I deliberated for an hour. Was it worth it to attempt to drive to Tucson and maybe Phoenix? What was our opportunity cost?

Since we were already within 100 miles of Tucson, AAA could tow us there, but our real goal was to reach Phoenix since my friend Zac was willing to let us crash at his place. We didn’t want to quit being productive, but we also didn’t want to destroy Harvey.

We decided it would be best to take the risk.

There is a certain feeling that comes just before the drop on a roller coaster. You know what lies ahead – the impending drop. The unconscious moving of your stomach upward. The clenching of your butt-cheeks. The whitening of your knuckles on the bar that protects you from plummeting to your unfortunate death.

My hands gripped the steering wheel. My butt-cheeks pinched together making me rise in the driver’s seat. My stomach wound itself around my heart so that it would be reminded the blood was still pumping.

Left blinker clicked as we moved back onto the two-lane I-10 W going 40 mph. Here goes everything.

Continue reading…


Next stop: El Paso… I mean Sierra Blanco

As we were leaving Van Horn with an inexplicable crippled engine, we resigned ourselves to the idea of inching along the access road until we could find a mechanic who could help us. While the fellas in Van Horn had tried earnestly to help us, they had neither the facilities, nor the willingness to bite off more than they could chew delving into Harvey’s ancient inner workings. The general consensus was: get to El Paso. They have everything there.

So we trundled off down I-10, wary of the unknown rumbles coming from under the hood, and dreading the 30 mile stretch of desert between us and the next town. We couldn’t go very fast and there was no consistent side road, so we were relegated to the far right lane of the 75mph highway. Every semi that hurtled past rocked Harvey out and then back as he was sucked in by the vacuum. It was a very peaceful time for all of us.

BAM!

Another tire? Jesus, could anything else go wrong? I pulled the rig over and at this point we all just started laughing. We had been awake for odd hours for almost a day and laughing was about all we could do. It started small and grew, but soon we were all three just leaning in silent laughter at the absurdity of it all.

After we wound down, I walked around the side and, sure enough, the back left tire had blown a tread. Stefan and I stood outside for a minute considering our options. There was no sense returning to Van Horn. We were 20 miles away and we knew already how limited their resources were. We had a spare tire, but our jack wasn’t heavy duty enough for Harvey’s girth. So the only thing that made sense was to try to make the 10 miles into the next town, Sierra Blanco.

We were about to get back in the car when I noticed a vague smell of piss. I had a suspicion where it was coming from so I walked to the back of the rig and looked underneath. Sure enough there was a gaping hole in our blackwater tank, the tank that holds our used toilet water. When the tread had blown off it flipped up with such a force that it had smashed a hole in the plastic tank. I wasn’t even shocked at this point. This was just one more addition to our comedy of obstacles.

So we limp down the highway on our bald tire and finally make it into the outskirts of town. There were a couple of shops that sell tires and parts and such and another that had a garage. We pull up alongside one of them, and Stefan walks in to ask to borrow a jack. Apparently the man inside wouldn’t let us borrow a jack, but he was willing to charge us $45 to use it. Needless to say Stefan walked across the street to the other shop and the man there offered a jack for $35… just to borrow it. Over the next ten minutes or so, Stefan walked back and forth across the street letting the sand sharks indirectly bid for use of their jack. After several trips, he settled with one of them for $20.

I backed in to the garage and climbed in the back, psyching myself up for the inevitable ordeal changing this tire would be. I grabbed some tools, hopped out, and walked in to the garage. It was there I met Payo.

In the middle of the garage was a giant tractor tire on its side, and on top of the tire was a large chair ripped out of a car. Payo sat atop his throne with a .22 rifle propped on his shoulder, sipping a giant fast food soda. His two granddaughters sat on either side of him in similar seats. He stared at us silently while we struggled to remove and replace the tires. It was disturbingly regal and creepy as hell.

After watching us try in vain for 15 minutes to remove the busted tire, I guess he figured we weren’t any threat to him and actually offered to help. He put the gun away somewhere and got out his air powered impact drill to remove the bolts. Compared to the tire iron, the drill made short work of the lug nuts.

Next came the jack, the one we’d bartered for. The back left tire was an awkward one to get to, and the range of the jack was limited. Stefan and I took turns pumping the lever and helping Payo replace the tire. Not only was it exhausting, but to get to the lever we had to lean right up against our busted septic tank. Joy.

We eventually got the spare on and put the bald tire where the spare had been. We thanked Payo and paid him; a little extra since he’d gotten down on the ground and sweat with us. And then we turned our backs on Sierra Blanco and continued the slow crawl into El Paso. We still had exhaust problems, but at least we had six tires on the ground. It would be a long process, but there was nowhere to go but west.

Bradley


Van Horn, the Outer Limits

If there were ever a place to have your RV start sputtering, shuddering, and slowing to a crawl, that place is Van Horn, Texas. As soon as we pulled in off of the highway, it was clear to see that we would be well taken care of here. From the abandoned buildings to the packs of stray dogs we felt warm, welcome, and most of all, safe. After pulling in to the second seemingly open, but ultimately deserted auto shop, Stefan decided to venture down the street to what appeared to be a Post Office. Mel and I wished him well and assured him that, if he were to meet his gruesome and/or supernatural demise there, he would surely be missed.

After five tense minutes during which we recounted each episode of the Twilight Zone that had begun similarly to this, Stefan emerged unharmed with news of a local mechanic who might be able to help us.

As soon as we pulled up to the locked gate, another car pulled in along side us. It was Bill, and he was there to open the gates. While Bill would ultimately not be able to fix our problem, or even diagnose it, he sure did try. He had us rev the gas while he poked around the engine. He even took it for a gripping test drive up the access road and back where, I shit you not, he checked his text messages while flooring it. Now luckily, due to our unknown problem, “flooring it” only brought us up to 45 mph. Nonetheless it was comforting that he was so open with his driving habits in front of us. I felt like we were old friends. Once it became clear that neither he nor his “associate” could explain the cause of our loss of power, he sent us to another mechanic a few blocks down Main St.

After waiting for 45 minutes in heat and uncertainty, Juan arrived and we went over the description of our troubles again. After just over 400 miles of driving, our RV started slowing up hills, dropping our top speed from 65, to 55, then 45 mph. After a certain point the gas pedal just became unresponsive. Juan also decided to take Harvey for a spin around the town. Somehow though, after sitting still for a while, Harvey was running smoothly again. There are few things more frustrating than taking a car to a mechanic, and having the problem disappear as soon as he touches it. Nevertheless he made some suggestions given what we could tell him about the trouble. And after more tinkering, said we would probably be fine to drive the remaining 120 miles to El Paso. So we thanked him, gave him a slice of delicious crumb cake our dear friend Saleh had baked for us, and went on our way.

Little did we know, we would be halted agaiun less than a mile outside of the city, this time of a totally different nature. But Sierra Blanco is another story, to be typed in another coffee shop. Now is the time for tacos and sleep.

It is my solemn hope, that of the few citizens of the glorious township of Van Horn that use the internet, that even fewer of them understand sarcasm. And if by some cruel twist of fate I am wrong, I apologize to both of you.

Bradley