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The Caravan, Year 2 - Part 3 of 3: Amarillo, Santa Fe, Grand Junction

Sitting now, back at home in LA, I am filled with deep gratitude and awe as I write this final recap of Year 2 of The Caravan. I've been home for a few days now, taking a breath and grounding back into life off-the-road. Feels like I'm finally at a place where I can write to you all about the experience. (Honestly, writing to you is a really helpful part of finding completion for me. So, thank you for reading this.)

People continually ask me, "How was The Caravan this year?"

It's such a big question, with so many different ways of answering.

"It was amazing!" is one, true answer. I use the word "amazing" here literally, not as hyperbole, but rather in the dictionary-definition-sense of "causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing." The work that we did together in so many cities around this country, co-creating so many different, impactful moments of greater understanding, deep connection, and loving service is something that I am quite literally surprised and astonished by both as it's happening, and in retrospect.

"It was challenging" is also a true response. It requires a lot of funds, logistics, communication, time, energy, and resilience to work with so many different teams, while also being in motion, driving sometimes 8-10 hours in a day. It's hard on the body. It's mentally and empathically strenuous. It's volunteer, unpaid work. It requires a lot of social energy that can be hard to sustain. (TLDR: I'm tired, y'all.)

"It was really fun." This part I hope comes through to you in these recaps, how fun it is. To see the country, to meet new people, to collaborate with friends new and old, to problem-solve together, to reunite and catch up with folks we've been working with for years now, to learn new things and to see new places. To celebrate victories, and to create memories. It's one of the best ways I could imagine to spend a Summer.

"It was moving." I am so inspired by the incredible work we witnessed as we visited and supported charitable groups around the country, as we spoke to and connected with folks experiencing major hardship who somehow find hope. I was moved by peoples' resilience, their commitment and fortitude, their generosity and compassion in the face of what are sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges.

I am grateful to report: there's so much beauty in the world. There's so many good people. It's an honor to bear witness to it and participate in it.

I want to give you a window into the final leg of the journey here, and I'm gonna start us off with a share from my friend Catherine Clary who joined me after the mid-break where we met up in Amarillo, Texas to volunteer at a center that helps refugees...

(WANT TO SUPPORT THE JOURNEY? We are still accepting donations toward the out-of-pocket expenses If you'd like to donate toward our cause, we are accepting donations via Paypal and Venmo here.)


Amarillo, Texas- The Place (Refugee Language Project)

From Catherine Clary (thank you Catherine for writing this and for introducing us to this incredible organization from Amarillo!): "Ben and I had a wonderful day volunteering at The PLACE in Amarillo, Texas. The PLACE is an innovative multicultural and resource center that is a collaboration between 3 service organizations: The Refugee Language Project (RLP) (learning English), We Find in Love (art, service, community), and Square Mile (economic development).

Prior to this trip, I did not know that 1 in 77 people in the world have been forced to flee their home communities, leaving everything behind. Amarillo is home to 15,000 of these refugees, who come from many countries and languages around the world, through refugee placement agencies. Refugees are often placed in Amarillo because the local meat packing plants always need workers.

The PLACE helps refugees with programs like ESL, community outreach, computer and internet assistance, life skills assistance, after school programs and more.

When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by John McMeans (RLP) and Emma Rohrs (We Find in Love). Ben and I had such a wonderful day learning about the work they do, getting a tour, and then getting to work with the kids during their after-school program, which included a trip to a local museum for an art class for the kids. We also had the opportunity to join a community potluck at a nearby park where different refugee communities came together to share a meal, do an art project and play in the park.

We are truly inspired by the amazing work they are doing in Amarillo, and we look forward to visiting again next year!

(Pictures include Ben Caron and Catherine Clary with John McMeans, Emma Rohr and local volunteers and participants. Amarillo refugees come from the many countries listed on the wall art.)


Santa Fe, NM - Volunteering at the Interfaith Community Shelter (Pete's Place) and Benefit Show for Wise Fool New Mexico -

I have to start of this recap by giving mad-love to our lead organizer in Santa Fe, Celeste Verduzco (thank you Celeste! I love you!) Celeste is a beloved producer/ritualist/facilitator/fire-performer/spoken word artists in Santa Fe, and a dear friend, and amongst all of her other bookings and her time as a mama, she brought together two really awesome service experiences for The Caravan.

The first was a volunteer opportunity at Pete's Place, also known as the Interfaith Community Shelter, where we met superhero Volunteer Coordinator Sue Carr, who showed us around the facilities which included showers, overnight beds, free books, a cafeteria and more. She shared with us that "in addition to short-term survival services, [Pete's place] also offer(s) a range of services through our partnership with local service providers who help with counseling, substance abuse, health care, job hunting, veteran support and legal challenges. These services are available during the day all year long for any low or no-income individual whether he or she is experiencing homelessness or not." (thank you Sue and the Pete's Place staff and volunteers for all the work you do!!!)

Catherine, Celeste and I were assigned to clean the beds in the overnight shelter, so with buckets of soapy water and rags we started scrubbing while jamming to the (at the time) brand new Barbie movie soundtrack. We were all three really glad to get to serve in a way that we knew would benefit the experience of folks who would sleep in those beds that night. We then had the pleasure of sharing lunch with the community at the shelter, and Sue gave us a short history of the center before we headed out to our evening mission.

That night we attended the Best of Santa Fe festival, a showcase of local businesses, non-profits and restaurants, with flyers in hand for our upcoming benefit variety show, "A Night of Unity & Hope" at Wise Fool New Mexico. The Best of Santa Fe was an Elton John themed event (they choose a different artist every year) so we dressed the part, and the three of us talked to many folks about the work that Wise Fool New Mexico does to serve the community. It wasn't hard to strike up conversation in our sparkly suits and with Celeste's vibrant attire and hair. It was a really fun night connecting with the community.

On Saturday, we prepared for our second service opportunity, a co-produced benefit show at Wise Fool New Mexico. Wise Fool is a beloved arts institution in Santa Fe that "serves 2,000 youth and adults with hands-on activities and 14,000 audience members annually with high-quality experiences built upon our core values of community, arts accessibility, and social justice."

Celeste had connected us with Wise Fool as she'd been following their work for years, and we were honored to work with their incredible team to co-create a night of live music, spoken word, ritual, circus, flow arts and more featuring local performers. The night was themed around "Unity & Hope" and it was a really fun, entertaining event with a wide variety of acts. I was proud of what our team, and especially Celeste, was able to bring together that evening, in collaboration with Wise Fool members who helped running lights, sound, the box office and more (thank you Wise Fool for trusting us and for giving your time and energy to raise funds for your truly noble organization!)


Grand Junction, CO- Mesa County Weekend of Service & Understanding

Our final community partnership was with a community that has become really near to my heart, Grand Junction/Mesa County, Colorado. I've been working with the community leaders of Grand Junction since 2020 when we did the Re:United States of America program together, and they've become true friends and sources of inspiration for me over these past three years (thank you to the organizing team of Mary Watson, Bill Wade, Stephania Vasconez, and Michelle Boisvenue-Fox - pictured above. I feel so blessed to know each of you and to get to collaborate with each of you over and over again!)

Our collaboration this year was centered around a weekend we called "The Mesa County Weekend of Service & Understanding." Our intention was to bring the community together for shared service and understanding around the issue of houselessness, which is a major challenge that Mesa County has been making progress around, slowly but steadily these past many years.

There's a lot of passionate, smart and committed people in Mesa County who are working daily to help the unhoused, and it was an honor to get to witness their work during the week I was in town.

My first morning in town I volunteered with Mutual Aid Partners, which is "a grassroots oriented, community-led nonprofit that supports mutual aid efforts in Mesa County."

Stephania Vasconez started Mutual Aid Partners, which has become a major lifeline for the community. Their distribution day is a wonder to behold, a well-oiled system with many moving parts. I was glad to get to stock boxes and bags of lots and lots of donated food for folks who wanted it that day, while witnessing barbers give free haircuts, volunteers offer information, and even veterinarians help peoples' pets. And at the heart of it all, there was genuine connection, conversation, care and smiles shared between the volunteers and those who received (thank you Stephania for inviting me to volunteer and for all the amazing work you do!)

The next night our team gathered at my hosts Bill & Karen Wade's home to catch up and plan for the weekend over dinner. Bill and Karen are fun, funny, smart and beloved community leaders, and they have become like family to me over these years, treating me like a prodigal son each time I return. It was great to share morning coffee and evening wine with them, looking out onto the beauty of the Grand Junction skyline from their back patio. It was really nice to be reunited with everyone that night over dinner, where we were able to laugh, share stories and catch up. (Thank you Bill and Karen for welcoming me/us into your home, for making us dinner, and for all the wonderful in-between moments we shared.)

Thursday we hit the streets at the weekly Art Walk/Farmer's Market in Downtown Grand Junction. Mesa County Public Library Executive Director, Michelle Boisvenue-Fox set us up with a booth, where we could hand out flyers and talk to community members about the upcoming events. I had a really great time walking from booth to booth chatting up the different vendors and talking about the issue of housing and houselessness in Mesa County. It was useful to hear so many different people's perspectives on the issue. Everyone I talked to was concerned about it, and everyone's lives were touched by it. (Thank you Michelle for giving us the opportunity to talk to the community!)

Friday brought our first two official events of the program. The first was an opportunity to volunteer at Roice-Hurst Humane Society, a vital resource in caring for unhoused pets in Mesa County. The second was a community conversation on housing and houselessness with panel experts Bill Wade of Homeward Bound, Ashley Chambers who is the Grand Junction Housing Manager, Stephania Vasconez from Mutual Aid Partners and Chris Masters from Homeward Bound. Ashley offered some very useful statistics based on research into the issue, which grounded our conversation in solid data. Chris, Bill and Stephania offered answers to the community's questions based on their first-person experience working with people who are unhoused every day. Michelle helped to facilitate a meaningful discussion amongst the attendees about how the issue showed up in their own daily lives, and we capped off the evening talking about what each person could do to help moving forward (thank you Ashley, Bill, Chris and Stephania for sharing your knowledge with us and Michelle and Mary for bringing Living Room Conversations to the event!)

Our final day of programming began with volunteering at Homeward Bound's Pathways Family Shelter. The Pathways Family Shelter provides 140 beds to the Grand Junction community for women, families, and people in recovery from substance abuse. The shelter includes study areas, an administrative office, a commercial kitchen, a family health center, a children's library and play area, and a centralized location for Homeward Bound administrative staff. Bill gave us a tour of the impressive facilities and I found it personally meditative to be on dishes-duty during the lunch hour (pictured above.) The residents were incredibly grateful to be served, and I'm glad I got to witness this institution that Bill helped to create first-hand.

Our last official event of The Caravan was a community dinner provided by the team and volunteers at Pathways to help understand houselessness through people's lived experiences. Attendees were partnered with someone who had experienced houselessness themselves for a dinner where conversations were shared around what that experience was like, giving greater insight for those who'd never experienced houselessness themselves.

It took incredible courage for our volunteers who were unhoused and formerly-unhoused to share their stories, and I could tell that everyone was moved by the experience.

I want to acknowledge that a big part of the drive to make this weekend of events happen was because of Mary Watson and Bill Wade's commitment, tenacity and follow-through, and Bill generously spent his birthday with us that night. Luckily, our friend and frequent collaborator, Grand Junction Mayor, Anna Stout, came with a cake so we could all sing him "Happy Birthday" at the end of the event.

At the end of the event we all shared hugs and goodbyes, looking forward to coming together again next year to serve the community in Mesa County.


Closing of Part 3...

It's always strange to come to this part of the recap, having tried to summarize and capture what was an inconceivably massive experience and endeavor into a few digestible paragraphs per week on the road. I know it's a little cliché to write this, but there really aren't words that can capture the experience of The Caravan. It's really something you have to come out on the road and see and feel for yourself, and if you feel called to it, I hope you'll join us next year, where I intend to open applications for anyone who feels called to join the journey.

The future of this project is yet to be revealed. I have some ways that I'd love to evolve/tweak/improve it, and a lot of people have given me super helpful feedback along the way. I believe in it. I believe in its capacity to help, to inspire, to connect, to elevate. I believe in us. I believe in what we've built together so far and what it can be.

Awe and gratitude are where I began this writing, and where I'll leave it. THANK YOU to our donors, our volunteers, our partners, and our participants for being co-creators in this wonderful phenomenon that is The Caravan. I am so proud of what we all accomplished together, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of us in our work making this world more compassionate, connected and caring.

Yours in service,

Ben Caron

(P.S. INSPIRED TO SUPPORT THE JOURNEY? We are still accepting donations toward the out-of-pocket expenses If you'd like to donate toward our cause, we are accepting donations via Paypal and Venmo here.)


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