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Surprise jumpstart for homeless family

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A Medford man and his young son couldn’t be happier to be given their very own retired school bus as most folks would be if somebody tossed them the keys to a brand-new house.

In essence, the bus will be just that; a home for Jesse Lewis and his nine-year-old son, Osiris. With plans to convert the bus, perhaps with a pirate theme, the bus will put an end to four years of homelessness for the pair.

Community members donated to help purchase the bus — which was significantly reduced in price once its previous owner learned about the father and son.

“It’s a dream come true for us,” Lewis said. “We’ve wanted to get a bus for a long time, we were just working our way up. We had a minivan, then we traded that in for a truck.”

“I just can’t believe it happened the way it did. I’m still in shock. I feel like I won the lottery.”

As Lewis sees it, their shift from homelessness began with a snowstorm and quite possibly a birthday wish by his son. Homeless for most of the past four years, Lewis and “Si” made their way by living in vans and trucks, camping, couch surfing and occasionally finding affordable rooms in which to stay.

Laid up in their truck last month as a snowstorm headed for the Rogue Valley, the father-son pair were among the dozens of local homeless who were provided, via efforts of community members and volunteers for the Compassion Highway Project, a hotel room at the America’s Best Value Inn on Riverside Avenue.

The night of the snowstorm, “Si” marveled at his good fortune to get to stay in a hotel for his birthday, sleep in a soft bed and even soak in a bathtub with bath bombs donated by soapmaker Breanna Grieve, owner of Unicorn Glitter Sharts.

Grieve was so touched by the gratitude of the boy for such simple pleasures, she helped raise money to host a birthday party for the boy and soon launched efforts to raise $5,000 via GoFundMe.

In a twist of fate, local sheriff’s deputy Ian Lance happened to have a bus he had planned to convert. He’d initially stripped the bus down, added insulation and a heating system. A change in his own plans, coupled with being touched by the story of Lewis and his son, Lance dropped nearly in half the price of the bus he planned to sell.

“I was originally looking to sell for as much as I could get out of it, but I just really loved Jesse’s story,” Lance said. “I’d planned to convert it for myself, kind of exactly what he plans to do with it, really. It was just a regular bus I bought in Klamath Falls at an auction.

“My plans kind of shifted so I had been hoping to see it get redone by somebody who was going to do the same thing,” he added. “I decided, when I heard about Jesse and his son, to kind of cut my losses somewhat and I came way down on the price.

Lance said he lived on a boat as a child and was nostalgic about the hippie lifestyle and living in small spaces. Grieve said she couldn’t be more excited to see Lewis and his son revamp the bus and turn it into their new home. Grieve, too, said she “had hippie parents” and loved the idea of the bus conversion and especially the thought of a single dad working to provide a happy life for his son.

“As soon as I first met Jesse and Si, I heard about their dream of doing a bus conversion,” she said. “I always thought bus conversions were pretty cool so I had an idea of what they were talking about doing and I just really wanted to find a way to help them make it happen.”

Grieve said that Compassion Highway Project founder Melissa Mayne helped track down the bus and was working to facilitate a “builders meeting” and coordinate donations and volunteers for the conversion.

Mayne said she could think of a family no more deserving than Jesse and Si.

“I’ve known him for four-to-five years now and he’s always wanted a bus. He’s an amazing father, he does so much with Si. I can’t think of a family more deserving,” Mayne said.

“To be able to find a bus and then have Ian drop the price so much for it to be able to happen for them. I love seeing Jesse’s dream come true. That’s the best part. Seeing something good finally happen for him and Si.”

Lewis, still speechless, smiled as his son busily loaded their belongings onto the empty vehicle on Wednesday, then diverted his attention to honking the bus horn.

“All right buddy, you’re gonna wake up the whole neighborhood,” Jesse said with a laugh.

Lewis, who homeschools his son, said he could hardly wait to travel and to do all the things he and his son enjoy doing together, from playing music and reading to going on outdoor adventures.

Lewis said plans would soon be drawn up for a makeover. Mayne hopes for a local version of the home renovation series “Extreme Makeover” for the rig.

“I think me and Si are both hoping for some kind of pirate theme. It’s all still sinking in. I just can’t even believe it’s real,” he said.

“There’s a lot to still figure out but we’re just still so happy that this happened for us. It’s a really dream come true.”

Volunteers sought for ‘Makeover’

A builders meeting dubbed “Extreme Home Bus Makeover” is set for 10 a.m. April 13 at the Medford Library. Interested volunteers are invited to attend. Monetary donations can be made via Compassion Highway Project, earmarked for “Jesse and Si bus fund” online, https://www.compassionhighwayproject.org/

To offer materials, offer volunteer labor or for more information on the project, contact Mayne at 541.646.8004.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Medford father and son Jessie Lewis and his son Osiris received a bus to become their home.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJessie Lewis and his son Osiris received a bus to become their home.