INTERVIEW by JESSICA PANDZIC | PHOTOGRAPHY by ADAM PIERRAT
“A party bus with a volunteering problem” is just one of the tag lines Do Good Bus co-founders Rebecca Pontius and Stephen Snedden are considering for their community service venture on wheels. With the intention of creating awareness and inspiring volunteers, it all started by simply serving the community with friends, whether the project was small disaster relief or providing books for kids. The project quickly grew, taking on its first community service tour partnered with the North American tour of the LA-based band Foster the People. Rebecca and Stephen have now returned to LA and are considering the slew of opportunities facing the Do Good Bus.
What exactly is the bus?
Rebecca: It’s a mobile volunteer activity. We load up a bus with 30 people, take them to a surprise activity, and give back in their community. That’s what it is, in a nutshell. We considered calling it a party bus with a volunteering problem. [laughs] You get on the bus not knowing anyone; within 20 minutes you’re playing Pictionary and have camaraderie with the left side of the bus. Creating that community and providing the knowledge that there’s other people in your city that are like you is important; there are other people that want to help and want to have fun.
Stephen: We educate people on the non-profit or charity that we’re visiting. People become aware of why this organization is needed. We hope to inspire people to get involved.
How much does a ticket to the DGB cost?
Rebecca: It varies depending on the trip.
Stephen: It depends. For the tour that we just finished, it was free for the volunteers. We struggle with keeping the wheels going while keeping prices down. It’s different every time. Some trips have been sponsored, some just cost less logistically, and some cost more; the price just depends on the project.
Rebecca: To give you a number – it can range from $40 – $70. You’re getting an experience for that. It really is an event, like going to a concert.
Stephen: There are many elements to the ride. Food and drink are often included. We do giveaways. We’ve had bands play. You’re getting a lot for your buck. You’re potentially spending less than you would if you went out to dinner.
Who do you help?
Stephen: Typically, we work with non-profits, but that is not a requirement. We are open to helping anyone that will provide an experience for our volunteers. We are willing to consider any idea. We do have a lot of connections to the non-profit world, so we tend to lean on that.
Why do you keep the service project undisclosed?
Rebecca: It’s a way for people to not have to over-think it.
Stephen: All you have to do is show up. We want it to be easy. Just show up and we do the rest. We introduce you to something that you may not have done before. We had several people that said, “I wouldn’t have come and done this. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do it again.”
So the rides go once a month, right?
You recently toured North America with the indie-pop band Foster the People. Tell me about that. Was it amazing?
Rebecca: The band has always wanted to give back. Just in conversation, we knew that they were serious about it, but they just needed direction. They really wanted to be able to touch each community rather than just writing a check to a charity. Within three weeks, we had to raise $100,000 to get the bus on the road. We did it via fans: fans of Foster the People and fans of the bus.
We followed their tour, stopping in 24 different cities. In each city, we loaded the bus with 30 volunteers and did a service project during the day, then a meet-and-greet afterwards. Almost everybody that volunteered got to meet the band. That was also a surprise element, so it wasn’t promised to anyone. In general, when the guys had time, they came out, said thanks, and hung out for a bit. The guys also got to ride a couple of times, which was really cool.
Did you meet Foster the People here in LA?
Rebecca: Yes, we’d worked with them before doing LA Guerilla Gardening.
Stephen: It was really meant to be. It just so happens that we’re the Do Good Bus and they were traveling on a bus. It just all made sense. They put in time, energy, and support in so many different ways – from social media to announcements at concerts. They talked about each non-profit at the concert in their city. These non-profits couldn’t ask for better publicity. One of the biggest up-and-coming bands talked about them at a concert, inspiring their fan base to check them out. Volunteers are the lifeblood of every non-profit. They can’t survive unless they constantly have new people supporting them. This potentially had a huge impact on each of these communities. I can’t say enough positive things about the band.
You were able to facilitate rides in 24 North American cities thanks to that tour. Do you intend to permanently expand to cities other than LA?
Rebecca: Yes. We actually had a couple who rode in a few cities during the Foster the People tour that are now starting a similar volunteer program called SUV: Support yoUr Village. It’s the Do Good Bus on a very small level. They are taking six of their friends in an SUV to do a surprise activity in their neighborhood. People are getting inspired.
We don’t know where we’re going to go. There’s interest; there’s a need. LA isn’t the only city that needs community. Whether it is a bus or an SUV or a bicycle, it doesn’t matter. It’s people getting together, going out, and doing good. It does have a ripple effect.
How can Daily BR!NK contribute to your success?
Rebecca: We’re in a rebuilding phase. We need support financially. When we began with Foster the People, we planned on visiting a specific amount of cities. They continued to add cities to the tour along the way. Honestly, we’re still a bit in the hole after the tour. We’re doing reward-based things like selling autographed CDs, posters, and tee shirts. Other than that: just support the bus, come out and volunteer.
Stephen: Sign up to volunteer, send your suggestions of non-profits, charities, or other projects. The more ideas we have, the better.
Talk about us. Talk about volunteering. Talk about non-profits. Get involved! Try to do good.
You always get more out of volunteering than you would ever expect. If you give it a try, you’ll really enjoy what you get out of it, not to mention that you’re giving back.
I hear you guys like to tell bus jokes. Can you tell me one?
Why did the bus driver recommend the Do Good Bus?
The passenger asked for change!