Do Good Bus volunteers Do Good Bus offers riders a fun way to lend a helping hand in their community while bonding with like-minded volunteers. (Photo: dogoodbus.com)

Maybe you want to give back to your community, but you don’t know where to begin.

It’s something Rebecca Reeder used to hear from friends whenever they learned she volunteered around the Los Angeles area. “They’d ask how do you know the good causes, how do you know your money is going to the right place, and how do you know you’re going to have a good time?” recalls Reeder. “I was never sure exactly what to tell them.”

An idea finally took shape during her 30th birthday celebration. Reeder, who was working as an event planner at the time, and her brother put together a surprise party for her guests. The siblings rented a party bus in secret and invited everyone she knew to a mystery event. The surprise bus ride was not only a hit but also an effective ice breaker. Many guests had never met before that night and were all fast friends by the end of the trip.

Reeder and a volunteer buddy realized this might be the answer for friends seeking fun ways to do good. “We thought why don’t we throw them all on a bus and have them connect, and then just show them how to volunteer?” she says.

They dubbed their venture Do Good Bus and hosted their first community ride in 2010. Everyone assumed it would be a one-off event, but participants had such fun and felt so good about giving back they demanded an encore. And then another. “Things kind of just snowballed from there,” says Reeder, who is now full-time executive director of the growing nonprofit.

Do Good Bus - Rebecca Reeder Do Good Bus executive director Rebecca Reeder was inspired to start her nonprofit after a party bus ride with friends to celebrate her 30th birthday. (Photo: dogoodbus.com)

Creating community connections

For the past seven years, Do Good Bus has offered once-a-month public rides in Los Angeles. Volunteers board the bus and ride to a mystery community service project. Reeder likes to keep the locations and causes a secret to add an element of fun and mystery, but also to prevent people from arriving with preconceived expectations.

Participants pay $45, with 10 percent going to the day’s cause and the rest going to Do Good Bus to help defray costs and run the program. Reeder originally rented a school bus but has since bought a vintage 1970s Crown bus (once a common sight on Southern California roadways).

Do Good Bus connections Face-to-face seating on the bus encourages riders to get to know one another and make lasting connections. (Photo: dogoodbus.com)

Rides usually last four to five hours and include everything from working in homeless shelters to beach cleanups to planting community gardens.

The aim, says Reeder, is to raise awareness about causes, create community and encourage continued support — all while having a good time. “We’re trying to make it an easy way to give back in addition to being a really fun experience,” she says.

The bus is retrofitted with face-to-face seating for maximum social bonding. Riders who board as strangers often leave as friends, as this video illustrates.

To date, 5,042 doGOODers (as volunteers are called) have participated in 238 rides serving 128 causes.

Extending its reach

Since launching, Do Good Bus has occasionally ventured beyond its Los Angeles home base. In 2011, for instance, the group joined indie band Foster the People on its 25-city tour. In each city, Reeder rounded up 30 concertgoers for a ride to a mystery public service event.

Since then, Do Good Bus has offered occasional community rides in a handful of U.S. cities like New York and Philadelphia (using rental buses), and has begun partnering with a team-building company called Team Bonding to host corporate rides around the country, including in Chicago.

Next year, Reeder hopes to finally expand nationally on a permanent basis. With help from long-time partner Dog-Eared Jewelry, the nonprofit plans to start up Do Good Bus operations in cities that feel like a good fit for its brand of “altruistic adventurism.” (One possibility is Austin, Texas.)

Do Good Bus community service project Community service projects are kept a secret until riders arrive at their destination. Activities range from planting community gardens to refurbishing school libraries to assembling hygiene kits for homeless shelters. (Photo: dogoodbus.com)

Do Good Bus may hit the tour circuit again, this time visiting college campuses. Plans are in the works for a cross-country trek aimed at sororities and fraternities.

Reeder says going national is a big step, but with so many people hungry to connect with charitable causes and like-minded, fun-loving pals, the time feels right.

“The community-building part is definitely my favorite aspect of what we offer,” Reeder says. “You see a group of people who don’t know one another board the bus. They’re sort of uncomfortable — no one knows what to expect — and then at the end you see people trade phone numbers and emails. You see how quickly they’ve found a connection.”