When a reader sent along this Craigslist ad for a burgundy-and-gold Redskins van, I thought it would make for a fun item. But when I called the owner, Charles Jones, to ask him about the ride, I found out that the van he’s selling is more than just a symbol of fandom. This van changed his life.
Jones, a 55-year old veteran, was homeless when he purchased the 2001 Ford E150 in February of 2012. While living in the van, which at the time was green, Jones had the idea to paint it Redskins colors to help raise awareness for his situation.
“The paint job needed to be loud enough for people to notice,” Jones told me.
He bought the paint, but didn’t get around to decorating the van until the Redskins’ poor start in the 2012 season gave him the motivation to complete his project.
“When the Redskins went into the bye week 3-6 last season, that’s when I couldn’t take it no more and I went out into the street lights and created the stripes.”
Jones, who has been a Redskins fan since he moved to the area from Lousville, Ky., in 1979, then took out a Sharpie and wrote some words of encouragement on the back of the van. It wasn’t long before he began to add more at the request of fans.
“When I created the van, the only writing I had on it at the time was ‘Go Skins’ and ‘RGIII.’” Jones explained. “And a lot of people would take pictures and follow me around. And people would stop and talk to me and say, ‘Well, where’s Doug Williams? Where’s Joe Gibbs?’ So then I said, I’ll add some more names to it.”
The gold stripes on the van became covered in the names of Redskins players, both old and new, and the added artwork drew a lot of attention.
“It got so big and word got around,” Jones said. “And then the Redskins went on their winning streak, and I like to think I was a part of that. The fanbase behind the Redskins van has been real awesome. When I did it, I didn’t realize there was so many die-hard Redskins fans who loved it as much as I did.”
Jones took the van to various Redskins events and had it autographed by personalities like the Hogettes and Chief Zee. When Joe Theismann saw the van, he autographed both the airbag cover on the inside, and the outside driver’s side panel.
The van got so much attention that someone who saw it and heard Jones’s story put him in touch with an organization that was able to help him find a home. He moved into his apartment in May of this year and next week starts a compensated vocational rehabilitation program for veterans.
“It turned out to be a great thing, that van,” Jones said. “Things are starting to turn around a little bit.”
Jones, a recovering drug addict, admits that it was a long journey to get to this point. He is making amends with his estranged wife and has been building a stronger relationship with his two daughters.
Which brings us to why Jones is selling the van on Craigslist.
A string of bad luck created some financial need for his family. While Jones was at a job interview a few months ago, his van got towed. His wife, an unemployed teacher, found herself without a car when hers broke down. His younger daughter, who attends James Madison University, needed money for her own car troubles. The money needed to fix those situations cleaned him out.
Jones is hoping to use the money pay off some debts and get his family a little more stable. He also has one important expense he’d like to take care of.
“My other daughter, she lives in Texas and I have two grandkids,” said Jones. “I haven’t seen her in over 17 years. I’d like to be able to afford to go visit her. It’s been hard. But the one thing I’ve learned is don’t give up and be patient. I know a few people who would help me in my situation, but I’m trying to be self sufficient.”
Jones said it won’t be easy to see the van go, but that the vehicle has served its purpose, first as a home and now as a symbol of what can be done with a little burgundy and gold paint.
(Thanks to @gheorghetheblog for the head up)