By Hanna Stangebye, Advancement Coordinator at Peace First

I find myself writing these words from the cozy confines of my van, my cherished home on wheels, or as I’d like to call it ‘My vehicle for change’ . However, life hasn’t always been this way for me…

I used to be a waitress in Los Angeles (LA). I didn’t mind the job itself, but the commute was brutal. If I worked the lunch shift, it took me over 2 hours to drive home during rush hour. I tried to make the best of those hours by listening to audiobooks and calling my family. But sometimes I would just sit in my own thoughts, usually daydreaming about the future, either the immediate future of where my partner and I were going to go hiking that weekend or the distant future of what we were going to do when we got out of that concrete jungle. We knew that LA wasn’t for us, but we didn’t know what we wanted or how to get there.

One late night after work, I was scrolling social media and came across an ad for the new VW California Camper. I clicked on it, and the infamous algorithm then took me down the rabbit hole of #vanlife. The seed was planted. This could be our way out.

We quickly moved from asking ourselves “why?” to “how?”, and as we began to dig for information, we found not only resources, but an incredible community: a group of like minded individuals who have utilized the power of the internet to share their knowledge, skills, and stories. I hadn’t previously stopped to think of the people on the other side of the screen. These are humans, just like me. These are people who were looking to make a change, found a way to do it, and decided to generously share their discoveries with the world. What drew us to these people was not just our common passion for the outdoors, but also their genuine compassion that was evident through their unwavering support. It was truly heartwarming witnessing individuals extending themselves beyond the confines of their screens, willingly imparting their wisdom and sharing their missteps with fellow enthusiasts like us. This made me think of the power that comes with collaboration highlighting the boundless opportunities that await us, when we embrace the interconnectedness with others around us.

Finding these people gave us the courage to make the leap. The knowledge they shared gave us the tools we needed to start. If they can do it, so can we. So, in January of 2020 we quit our jobs, packed up our cat, and moved in with my parents on the other side of the country to build our own #vanlife. It took over a year to build our tiny home on wheels. We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew that we could learn it, and we just celebrated 2 years of living on the road.

It has been an incredible journey to say the least. A journey that has defined the person I have become and serendipitously led me here: to working at Peace First. I am a young person who found community and resources online to help me make a change in my life, through courage, compassion and collaboration. Peace First is all of that and more on a global scale. It bridges the gap between ideas and reality. It is literal magic, supporting young people to create the changes that they want to see in the world through community, mentorship, and resources.

I am so excited to be joining such an incredible team created by and for young people. As the saying goes:

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.”

We are the future therefore we are the present. We are planting the seeds and cultivating the garden of a better future. Two years ago, I discovered my vehicle for change, and today I want to become one for every young person needing a lift.

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