JONNIE DeROSSETT had been in nursing for 30 years and waspondering the idea of combining work with her love of travel. The pandemic made her realize there was no better reason to follow her dreams. So she bought a van and got to building, documenting the process on YouTube. She launched her travel nurse career in 2021 in the mountains of West Virginia.
CRVL: How did you acquire the knowhow to build out your own van?
Jonnie: “Well, my dad was a pretty handy carpenter. He was real good at finished carpentry. So I grew up watching him do stuff. And then, by the time I was about 20, I started to do Habitat for Humanity in Illinois. I’ve done about 16 houses. So basically I started with residential type construction. Then my husband and I built a log home when I was about 25. It was actually a kit, we put it together. Once we got it done, I started doing mission work with the Baptist church, down near McAllen, Texas. I was training women how to build, kind of like Habitat for Humanity. I went down there seven or eight times teaching women how to build roofing, framing, plumbing, some drywall, stuff like that.”
Once out on the road, Jonnie met other nomads who needed help with their vans. Eventually there were so many requests that Jonnie decided to make it a business: MidWest Van Builders. But she still wanted to help others the way she had with Habitat for Humanity and missionary work.
Jonnie: “I went to Rubber Tramp Rendezvous the last three years. There’s a big need in Quartzsite, there’s a lot of people out there that don’t know where to get the help. They’re worried about getting ripped off. They just don’t know what to do. They need ideas or suggestions on what they can do. What is doable in their van.
“And sometimes it isn’t a matter of someone not being able to do it. They just need some ideas, some solutions. So I’ll look at what they have and say, ‘What if you did this?’ And they’re like, ‘I didn’t even think about that. That should totally work.’
“The first year I went I did some small projects just around camp. Then the second year I took my tools. I was gonna purposefully search for anybody that needs help. So Lady Bugout called me one day and said, ‘Hey I’ve got a lady over here at the meet up. She’s in a bad way with her van. Can I bring her over to you?’
“She was in a Transit Connect. She was sleeping on a coffee table. It was sliding all around. She had a cabinet she couldn’t get to fit anywhere because the wheel well was in the way. I worked on her van for a couple of days, and it was such a blessing, it’s just unbelievable to them.”
“You know, there’s people out there who just want to help. There’s no strings attached, they just want to help. That’s one of the things I tell people who are trying to get into this and don’t know what to do. The community is helpful, it’s amazing.”
CRVL: I heard you do a thing called the Angel Project.
Jonnie: “I do live streams on my YouTube channel on Tuesday nights, and I announced that I was going to be going to Quartzsite again and that I was going to be doing a couple of projects. If anybody needed anything to send me an email. Somebody heard that live stream and sent a big donation. They wanted to be an angel donor, didn’t want their name mentioned.
“So I did a video about the angel donation and said if anybody has any projects that they want to do to, send me an email, maybe a small video clip. So I had several people reach out to me. One of them is gonna bring their van up to Missouri because it was too big of a project without my shop.
“One lady drove eight hours to come down to Joshua Tree to spend four days so I could help her work on her van. When we weren’t working we were teaching her basic things, like making the Reflectix for her windows, and about filling your water while you’re on the road. She said. ‘I didn’t even know that I should be thinking about this stuff already.’ But you know, until you’re out there living it, you don’t know what you need to know.”
“When I went out to Quartzsite this year, I had Patreon members who wanted to be a part of it. So five of them stuck around and helped me with all those projects. It was just so amazing. The people that were recipients were so appreciative, and sometimes it was just like one of the patrons simply sitting visiting with them, listening to their story while we worked. But each person I think left feeling it was an incredible life changing event. And recipients said, ‘I couldn’t afford to do this stuff but I can afford to pay it forward whether it’s in a service or whatever.’ That kind of gratitude makes you want to get out there and do more. It gives the people I meet out there a sense of hope in humanity.
“In all, 12 people got help because, once I got out there, people who hadn’t emailed me asked, ‘Oh hey, I heard you’re doing work out here. Would you mind taking a look at my my project?’ So I did everything from changing a broken spring, broken running boards, all kinds of stuff. I had planned on being there two or three weeks, but I ended up staying for 43 days — largely because of the angel donation. I hope to receive more of those in the future. The Angel Projects happen as there a funds for it. I’d like it to become an annual thing.”
CRVL: What message do you have for all those people out there who need help, or who think that they can’t do this because they don’t know how to do anything?
Jonnie: “You have to just take one step at a time, one project, like, what’s the most important to you? If it’s just being able to get out there, I always tell people to figure out a way to sleep in your van, whether it’s a cot, whether it’s a temporary mattress on the floor, whether you build a two by four bed frame. Go out there and see if you can sleep in your van. See if can do this lifestyle. Some people spend a night in their van, they’re so scared to death, they don’t sleep and it’s not for them. But as you live in it, you learn what you need and what you don’t need. I know a lot of people who put a lot of stuff in their van, and they don’t need it. It’s in the way, it’s just a mess. So take one project at a time.
“Also, there’s a tremendous amount of resources on YouTube. Watch a million videos. That’s what I did.
“I just feel like, if you look, if you pray hard enough, there’s somebody out there that is gonna be able to help you — whether it’s free help or whether it’s enough help — just to show you what you’re doing and what your possibilities are there.”
CRVL: I’m really happy that you’re doing what you’re doing.
Jonnie: I like to get the word out that there’s help to be had. I’m a firm believer that the more I use my talents for the good, the more God rewards me by increasing those talents. I probably received much more in my heart than what I gave. So I am a firm believer that you get back 10 fold what you give. I’ll keep giving as long as there’s people out there.
What a great article!
Thank you so much for what you do.
I’m no expert, and I work a full time job, but I’d be all over helping someone with their van project. No way I’m making it to the southwest anytime soon, but if there’s anyone in the Chicagoland area (specifically the greater Aurora area), I’m available weekends to help you get out on the road. I’ve got tools, scrap wood, and I comb garage sales and curb pick for useful items. Not only do I watch a lot of you tube videos, I own books on carpentry (sometimes you just gotta read). Seriously, anyone needs a hand, reach out.
I turned 70 years old today. Never thought I’d make it this far. 4 months ago I was run out of Mexico by some very bad people. I had a good life there and thought I would spend the rest of my life there. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. Now I would like to try the Nomad life style but I need help finding the right rig. I have a modest pension and $20k to invest in a rig for life on the road. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone can help me. Many thanx in advance!
Phil, may I suggest only spending about half your money on a vehicle? Spend another five or so on upgrading and converting. Think fresh tires, brakes, etc. get it ready to go. Then keep that final five as your safety net.
You staying in the southwest?
Beautiful article, very inspiring, thanks for sharing!
Once a nurse…always a nurse !! Love a good nurse PRN !!❤️❤️❤️
Thanks for your advice. I know that whatever I buy will require work unless I finance something new or newer which I’m loath to do. Nevertheless it’s an option. For example, I would feel comfortable spending $30K on a rig, putting $10K down and financing the balance. For me the ideal rig would be a 20 to 22 foot van that I can stand up in. I’m 5’11” tall. I would like to spend as much time as possible on BLM land and avoid RV parks. I’ve seen older motor homes on Craigs List for $10 to $15K. Is this the answer for me or am I letting myself in for headaches? Not sure what to do.
PS: I’m in S. Florida. Is this where I should be looking or someplace else?
With a used motorhome, things like the engine and transmission will likely be less of a problem than things like plumbing, electrical, appliances and water damage. There’s a good chance a used RV in Florida will have a mold problem.
RVs are for vacations. You need to convert a commercial chassis. Look into a single rear wheel box truck. Taller than a regular van yet easier to climb into than a big dually rig. Also cheaper for tires, insurance, etc. you could also look into a small skoolie. Think daycare mini bus. Personally, I wouldn’t finance anything unless it was new with a full warranty. You don’t want payments AND expensive repairs. If you stay away from coastal areas, you should find some pretty clean rigs down there. Try renting a van and go camping for a weekend. Try various sizes to see what works for you.