We had the cell phones, the fax machine,...on the road again
the house, successful careers and too little time
for our family. So we walked away from it all.
We sold our home, bought a van, packed a tent
and hit the road with our kids through all
50 states." That was in 1996.
Now, the Grahams are...
The Wichita, Kan., family is
following up on its first 50-state trip
with another focusing on
Been there...By Mary Adamski
Last time in Hawaii, the Graham family of Wichita, Kan., toured the state Capitol and met Gov. Ben Cayetano.
This trip, they plan to help serve a meal at the Institute for Human Services homeless shelter.
Marlene and Craig Graham are focusing on volunteerism on this trip with their kids, Courtney, 14, and Collier, 6.
"The first time was geared to teach the kids about American history and geography," Marlene Graham said. "This time our goal was to teach the kids a lesson about compassion and appreciation for what they have."
Sound like an enlightened look behind the facade of the visitor's Hawaii?
It's just one stop on a 50-state journey that began in November. They have joined relief workers helping tornado victims in Moore, Okla., sold hot dogs and cotton candy at a Shriners circus in Sioux Falls, S.D., planted trees in Iowa, and talked to a Harlem school assembly about the world outside New York City. They've delivered day-old bread for a food bank, painted out graffiti, cleared park trails and delivered Thanksgiving dinner to the elderly.
"I'd never volunteered for anything in my life," said Craig Graham. He's proud of Collier's early start. "He loves to volunteer. Whenever he sees trash, he chases it down."
A stint at an education booth in the New England Aquarium in Boston stands out in Collier's memory.
"I touched a horseshoe crab and sea urchins; I told people not to be rough with them," he said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family dressed up in fish and penguin costumes to act as guides.
"We've never felt like outsiders anywhere," said Marlene Graham. "People are so warm, so embracing. There is still a great kindness in America."
She shares her journal of their adventures on their Web site at www.usatrip.org, an address they publicize with signs on the extended GMC van that is their home on the road except in Hawaii.
"We'd like to inspire other people. Volunteering together is a great way for a family to bond. It can be hard work, but it can be fun," she said.
If their names sound familiar, it may be because it's their second circuit of the 50 states. In July 1997, they ended a year of visits to all the state capitols.
They sold their home and businesses to finance that trip as an antidote to "middle-class meltdown" -- too much time at work for Craig as a real estate broker and Marlene as the owner of a small newspaper, and too little time together as a family.
Earle and MaryAnne Long of Hauula, their hosts on their first trip, are among the thousands of friends on the road and on the Internet. Long, who works in City Councilman Steve Holmes' office, helped arrange the IHS stint.
The Grahams hit the road again two years later, combining their unique spin on home-schooling, wanderlust stimulated by the knowledge it's time to settle down as Courtney starts high school this fall and, truth be told, a taste for the celebrity status their travels have sparked.
The first trip put them on CNN, the "Today" show, Eye on People, National Public Radio and in Ladies Home Journal and numerous newspapers. Marlene recalls how 3-year-old Collier did them proud when they appeared with Barbara Walters on "The View" morning television show. When Walters flashed a photo, he identified it as Fort Sumter, S.C., and knew it was the site where the Civil War began.
This trip started in Los Angeles with an appearance on the Donny and Marie Osmond television show, and the volunteerism angle got Oprah Winfrey's attention.
Craig Graham said they were still on their first circuit when, in April 1997, President Clinton's Philadelphia summit on volunteerism planted the seed for this trip. On their earlier stop in that city, a thief broke into their van and stole $4,000 worth of electronic equipment. Publicity about the crime generated a flood of e-mail that took them back to Philadelphia, where they joined a graffiti-eradication effort.
The sale of Marlene Graham's book about the first trip, "Headfirst into America," and their savings are underwriting this trip. She says, "We'll be properly broke by the time we're finished."
They'll probably settle down in Florida near her parents, Paul and Maria Smith who, for the record, started this whole thing with their celebration of the American bicentennial. The Smith family of four worked their way around the 50 states in 1976.
Teen-ager Courtney got a job on the first trip, and she's continuing as they go along. She's a reporter for WAM, a Kid's Network show on the Encore cable channel. She did video reports with the focus on history and geography for round one, and on volunteer work around the country this time around. She sees it as a good beginning for the career she's planning as a journalist.
The Graham family's volunteer tour has taken them to:
Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii