By Rebecca Maglischo
Photos Courtesy of Travis Doodles

Homeless.  It’s a single word printed on cardboard and punctuated by a smaller “God Bless.” This is the sign that Rick Highman grips at the stop sign in the Walmart parking lot when things get really tough. He is astutely aware that “HOMELESS” is just one letter off from “HOPELESS,” and on the days he has to hold his sign, Rick knows he is almost there. He bows his head and looks at his feet; making eye contact is just too much. He needs $20. That will get him some ham and a loaf of bread. It will also buy him a pack of smokes and some Mountain Dew, the last of life’s comforts that are still within his reach. If he can get $40, he’ll offer up a prayer of thanks that he doesn’t have to sit in this shame tomorrow. 

Almost 64 years old, Rick has been on and off the streets of Lakeland for over 10 years. He came to Florida for his 40th birthday to escape the relentless snow in Rhode Island, and it took him a week to make the move permanent. A skilled handyman with years of experience in heating and air conditioning, Rick had no problem finding work and building a comfortable life. He was working for himself when he fell off a roof, breaking his leg. “It’s hard to ask for help,” Rick told me. “I don’t want to burden my sisters. I don’t want to feel the embarrassment of admitting I can’t get my feet under me.” 

It was in the Walmart parking lot on one of the dark days that an ice cream sandwich nudged the trajectory of Rick’s life in a new direction. Travis Doodles is a beacon of hope on the streets of Lakeland and Plant City. He’s also a social media icon with almost 4 million YouTube subscribers and hundreds of thousands of followers on every major social media platform. 

Driving a pink ice cream truck, Travis is approachable. He offers a sandwich and starts a conversation. “What do you need?” he asks Rick. Then, he bought Rick new shorts and three nights in a hotel—a bed and a shower. 

Travis Doodles has a winding road of life experiences. He is a talented artist, an excellent barber, a videographer, even a past MTV reality TV show celebrity. He was working as the social media manager for a wealthy man in May of 2022. It was easy and lucrative and empty. “I remember the moment.” Travis smiles. “I told my buddy that if I had all that guy’s money, I’d just give it away. It was all so pointless.” In an instant, God convicted those words. “I realized that I wasn’t doing that now, with the money I already had. I probably wouldn’t actually do it with more money.” 

Travis pitched a crazy idea to his wife, Amber. “I thought for sure she would tell me I had lost my mind and to go to work.” Here, he shakes his head. “She said, ‘Let’s do it.’” Travis quit his job and, on complete faith, began giving money away documenting every interaction with a small camera attached to his body. Six videos a week for four months. “I was spending an average of $1200 a week on people. I was blowing through money, and it was starting to get a little scary.” 

In the fall of 2022, Travis approached a man in Lakeland’s Munn Park. The man had cancer and needed help badly. Travis himself was at the end of his funds and acting purely on faith that God had his back. The video of this interaction went viral, raising over $10,000 in just days. 

Worth and Purpose, a 508c1a, exploded its media reach and began to really see the power of video. The aim was to give homelessness a face, a name, a story, and to inspire viewers to act on their convictions in whatever small way they could. Rhonda, Jukebox, Bob, Vern, Lloyd, Rick… video after video, the characters transform from a rejected, homeless face into a human with real thoughts and a very real story. 

Rick has been in a hotel for three months, thanks to Travis Doodles and the crowd-sourced funding of his media followers. Rick’s head has rested on a pillow for over 90 days straight. He has felt the calm that comes from a roof over his head and a hot shower. Rick has space to think about work now. He is clean with a fresh haircut and beard trim. He can do small jobs to make enough to get necessities on his own. He recounts to me the daily struggle of homelessness: “You have to constantly think about how to get your needs met, where to go, how to get there. Your body aches and you aren’t rested. Your brain spins and it’s hard to think past the next need. You have one pair of shorts in your backpack, and if someone takes it, you have nothing. Then you can’t even hose off behind a building because you don’t have another pair of bottoms. No one talks to you; it is so lonely. And you know what they think of you when they look at you. People go crazy out there on the streets.” 

Worth & Purpose Ice Cream Truck

Worth & Purpose Office

Worth and Purpose office space’s centerpiece is “Doodles’ Diner,” a replica of a 1950s-style diner: checkerboard floor, jukebox, red leather booths, laminate table and walls bearing vintage signs, The space is not an actual diner, but is intended for meeting rather than eating.

The issue of homelessness is massive. It is like trying to think about the universe—so complex and so overwhelming that a person just simply chooses not to think about it. Travis Doodles is breaking through that paradigm with a model that makes every person a player in the game of change. Doable donations, ranging from $1 to $100, amass into the funds for campers, hotel rooms, bikes, medical care and more. To love your neighbor is, in fact, a collection of small kindnesses that add up and build on the one before. Travis’ message is simple: It’s cool to love people. It’s cool to be generous. The answer to despair starts with a smile and a conversation. And then, you just love the hell out of people.