One of the special things I will always remember about our kayak trip down the Mississippi is the extreme kindness extended to us the entire way. We were just strangers, passing through towns we did not know, but received the kind of hospitality often reserved for loved and trusted friends. From warm meals to spare bedrooms, boat repairs to loaner vehicles, people we just met offered more than we ever expected. Launching from one town to paddle toward another, Gene or I would inevitably say, “When we get home, I want to be more like (insert River Angel name here).” We yearned to extend that kind of hospitality to others, not only to pay back to those who helped us, but to pay it forward as well.
Located over 150 miles from the Mississippi, we weren’t likely to have many river travelers stopping by. However, our home is a mere 100 yards from the Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail – which brings me to the topic of this post, the non-profit organization known as Warmshowers!
If you like to bike, you’ve probably heard of Warmshowers – an organization which facilitates safe and reciprocal hospitality for bicyclists touring in 175 different countries and speaking any of 17 languages. As of this posting, the organization has 140,932 members and 80,322 are currently available to host cyclists who are looking for a place to stay tonight.
Bicyclists planning to travel and those currently on the road can search the database at www.warmshowers.org for hosts by name or location. Then they can visit the profile pages of prospective hosts to make sure they are currently available for hosting and to see if there is a good match between the host preferences and the cyclists’ needs. Using the contact method preferred by the host, cyclists email, call, or message in advance to ask whether or not the day they are looking for shelter is convenient. Hosts and cyclists have lists of reviews on the website from past hospitality matches, so it’s easy to do a quick check to make sure that a match is safe. However, hosts set the parameters for guests in their homes, and are under no obligation if anything feels uncomfortable.
Warmshowers has a part-time, paid Executive Director, but all other positions are filled with volunteers, including the international Board of Directors. The major cost is for software and systems; relatively little is spent on administrative fees. Most of the funds for Warmshowers operating expense come from member donations and from a major fundraiser each April. Len Bulmer, Board President, sums up the reason for all the effort: “We never lose focus on the WHY we’re doing this. And, the WHY is simple. We facilitate human connection and friendship for people who pedal and those who generously support them.”
In just a few years, Gene and I have hosted bicyclists with a variety of reasons to ride. To a rider, they have been respectful, adventuresome, interesting, kind, and grateful. We’ve enjoyed conversations which meander from home and family to travel tales of planning, mishaps, and inspiring achievements. We’ve shared good food, visits to local spots of interest, our washer and dryer, hot shower and warm guest bed. We’ve gotten to give back a little of what we have been given. And, we’ve seen the best of our society – relationships built on kindness and trust.
If you’re interested in finding out more, Warmshowers has a public Facebook page (Facebook.com/warmshowersfoundation/) as well as a private group for registered users. They also have an Instagram presence, a Warmshowers Forum on their website and an email newsletter.
If you have an idea for a charity or non-profit organization you’d like to see highlighted with a Charity Spotlight, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me more about it!
Blue Skies and Tailwinds,
Barb and Gene