NEW PORT RICHEY — Angela Hadley's dream is to live off the grid. She wants to travel the country with her family without debt, food insecurity and the threat of homelessness looming over her family's head.
When she first suggested converting an old school bus into a mobile home, her daughter Rylee thought it was just another one of her mother's “crazy ideas.”
Then her father, Mike, brought home the 1990 Bluebird school bus with faded, peeling paint from St. Augustine. He purchased it from a couple who had lived Angela's dream before settling down in the historic city.
The inside of the bus bares no resemblance to its first life: students hunkering down in endless rows of vinyl seats trying to evade spitballs and the schoolyard bully. It had already been converted into a RV by its previous owners with plumbing and propane lines and outfitted with a gas stove, fridge and shower.
It won't just be a “home away from home” for the Hadleys. It'll be the only home they have, and the only one they need, Angela said. They're giving away most of their possessions in a yard sale later this month, including seeds and cuttings from the garden Angela has spent three years cultivating. Their 1,400 sq. ft. house will go back to their landlord, who'll find someone else to rent it.
“We don't feel like we have a whole lot to lose,” Mike said.
Their story starts where many middle class families facing eviction or foreclosure starts- with job loss. Mike lost his job as mental health technician after a mentally ill patient attacked him and Mike was forced to defend himself. The bite mark left a deep scar on his forearm but the damage goes even further. Mike has struggled to find another job in his field.
Angela, a stay-at-home mother, homeschools two of her three children who still live at home. A fourth is making her own way in Clearwater. They've been scraping by on unemployment checks and food stamps. Mike cleaned out his 401 (k).
“We got to a point where we had to make a choice,” Angela said. “Do we go on welfare and get subsidized apartments? Do we live under a bridge in Sims Park?
Instead, the family opted for a 210-square-foot school bus.
The family will leave this summer for their first cross-country trip to Washington State. Their journey has been mapped out according to the location of biodiesel stations along the way. Eventually they learn to make their own biodiesel fuel. Along the way, they'll work and learn at organic farms and bring clothing and shoes to communities with high child poverty rates. They'll stay at campsites, RV parks- whoever will have them.
Friends, family and strangers Angela has shared her story with online have expressed their own concerns. Why are you doing this to your children, they ask?
“We're not doing this to our children,” Angela said. “We're doing it with them. If even one child was against this, it would be put on hold until the issue was resolved.”
Rylee, 14, was the last to come on board. Like most teen girls, she's obsessed with texting, nail polish and makeup. But when her father brought the bus home, she excitedly posted a photo on her Facebook page to brag to her friends.
“They think it's pretty awesome,” Rylee said. “Everyone keeps saying how lucky I am.”
Her dream is be a photographer for National Geographic. Angela points out that the traveling will give her the opportunity to see the country and hone her skills.
“What's the point in a traditional high school education for her?” Angela said.
Rylee agreed. “I've always wanted to photograph the Redwood Forrest,” she said. “Now I can go there and do it.”
Angela will blog along the way about the life of a “scoolie,” a larger community of people who have converted school buses into traveling homes and shares their stories online. The blog is at http://abiggerpeace.blogspot.com.
Her family will “wwoof,” work on organic farms in exchange for food, board and knowledge through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program. They'll also learn more about and work with “intentional communities, which includes ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, income-sharing communes, student co-ops, spiritual communities, and other nontradiotnal projects.
The back half of the bus has three bunks for the children, as well as a cubby for a bookshelf and the few personal items they'll be bringing with them, like toys. Mike and Angela will sleep on a futon in the front of the bus where the kitchenette is.
The children, all honor students, will also continue with their homeschool education and “learning through doing,” instead of just reading textbooks and taking tests.
Colton, 6, even tested out of kindergarten, first and second grade and is taking third grade classes online.
Gunner, 13, has autism but his parents aren't too worried about the lifestyle change. Gunner is perhaps the most excited about venturing out and experiencing new things and helping people .
Long-term, the family plans to travel for a year or two.
“We'd love to then pass the bus on to another family who finds themselves in our position and has the same plan. The college and career path to financial freedom doesn't work for a lot of people. Capitalism doesn't work for a lot of people. If we're successful, we can help other families get out, too.”
The family is raising money to help pay for new tires and solar kit for the bus through the crowdfunding platform http://www.gofundme.com/A-Bigger-Peace. They're also looking for a plumber, electrician and mechanic to volunteer their time to check the bus over. If you're interested in helping, contact the Hadley's at email@example.com.
You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter at @DaylinaMiller.