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A Bus and a Dream Help Kids
TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
By Tonya Wilholt

"LaVerne Blickley sits at the front of the old military bus, her dark hair blowing in the breeze as her husband, Bill, concentrates on the highway from behind the wheel.  Nearby, a group of teens play cards at the table, laughing and (playing) for round pieces of cardboard called Pogs.  Others, mostly members of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Grand Rapids' Burton Heights area, read quietly in the back of the bus or concentrate on games such as Battleship and checkers as they head to a rural retreat near Cadillac.

At one time, this northern Michigan road trip might have been expensive for this youth group, and almost unreachable for others in Grand Rapids' inner city.  The Blickleys, however, plan to change that."

Two Years of Planning, Discussion, and Prayer.

"Bill Blickley, a former Grand Rapids City Commissioner, and LaVerne, a member of the (Grand Rapids) Library Board, bought the old National Guard transport bus about a year ago.  Since then-with help from dozens of donors and sponsors - they've remodeled the troop carrier into a camping vehicle meant to carry inner-city Christian youth groups to anywhere in North America."   
The goal ... is to encourage and support Christian adults while they serve others,  worship God , and mentor multi-ethnic, inner-city young people.

Blickley's experience keeps machinery working and groups healthy.

Blickleys do many things to keep their guests healthy while on service projects including injecting their water tanks with a measured amount of chlorine to kill bacteria and filtering their water twice.  They even use a U.S. Army iodine disinfectant in their water when washing and rinsing dishes.  " The rest of the year, he runs a snowplowing business, manages rental property and grows alfalfa hay on a northern farm, among other things. She is a Grand Rapids Christian School teacher."

Their effort has its roots in an eight-month trip they took with their pre-teen sons through Europe and Africa, rolling through jungle and desert in a standard family camperIn 1992 the Blickley's  traveled  from Michigan to the Panama Canal through Central America doing small work projects for missionaries.  LaVerne, Bill and their daughter Kasey lived in their truck camper for nearly four months on this trip.

Blickleys experience benefits their own neighborhood's kids

"Watching some of the youths in their Southeast Side neighborhood slide down the spiral to gang membership, crime and sometimes death, they began searching for a "super camper."  They searched about three months. They kept praying. Finally, they found a $12,000 bus in Indiana used only to transport National Guard trainees to Camp Grayling. It met all their qualifications and then some:

It was cheaper and had  less mileage on it than they had expected.

From there began a designing, building and refurbishing frenzy that lasted nearly a year.    Nearly 50 volunteers  from local neighborhoods and organizations and the First Christian Reformed Church the Blickleys attend helped renovate the bus in Habit for Humanity's warehouse.

"There's been an unseen engineer, and I can't explain it, but everything fit," Bill Blickley said as he discussed earlier floor plans."

Blickley's support makes leading a youth group outing
a lot easier.

"Ken Baldwin, leader of the group that traveled from Grand Rapids to LeRoy, agrees.

"They do all the food preparation, so it makes it absolutely wonderful that we didn't have to take the time to stop what we're doing," Baldwin said.  "WE could all go as one, almost like a family, all in one bus.""

August 19, 1995 Grand Rapids Press quotations