For the next few weeks, I will be at my local arboretum, learning how to work in the gardens there and help with some of the programs. We’ll get classes in the history of the gardens, botany, soil composition, plant nutrition, organic insect control, greenhouse 101, pruning, and how to give great tours. For a plant geek like me, this is awesome! I’m not getting paid to do this. I am a volunteer.
I already volunteer at the library once a week for a few hours, watering and tending the plants. I do other things there too, like helping at movie time, or looking for missing books. But first and foremost I’m there to tend the plants. I know, talking and tending to plants is not what comes to mind when you think of library volunteering, but there was a need, and I was in the right place and the right time. I love what I do there.
Over the years, I’ve also volunteered in other ways. I’ve helped out with the Children’s Cabinet by giving in home support to a family. I’ve cleared weeds at the local animal shelter, so other volunteers had a safe path to walk the dogs each day. That same day, we also made cat toys. I’ve helped out at a Children’s Dell (day care) at a Renaissance Fair and counted birds in my backyard. The list goes on. Some days have been great. There have been a few that have been not so great. All have been fulfilling.
Why do I do this? There are so many reasons. But first and foremost, because it makes me happy. The feeling is so strong that it’s hard to describe; some of it breaks down as the following:
- It gets me out of my comfort zone. When I volunteer, I’m doing something different than I normally do. I go somewhere new. I see a fresh perspective. I wake up my brain and blow out the cobwebs.
- I meet new people. I have a small circle of friends that I’m comfortable with. I probably wouldn’t interact with a lot of different personalities and viewpoints if it wasn’t for my volunteering. Meeting new people is a healthy thing. It challenges your beliefs and thoughts and expands your view of the world. It creates tolerance and empathy. I may not become fast friends with all of the people I volunteer with, but I do learn from them.
- I create experiences. Experiences are more valuable than buying material stuff. There have been tons of studies on the matter about what is more fulfilling, and the experiences win, hands down. If you volunteer with your family, that’s even better! When you share the experience with your loved ones, you build bonds that last longer than the latest “big thing.”
- I learn new things. Right now, it’s all about the Arboretum. I can take what I learn there, and bring it home to my own yard. Even better, I can share with others by helping with the tours and sharing what I’ve learned.
- There are freebies. This is a slightly more selfish reason for volunteering. It not really one that I think about, but it’s a valid reason, so I wanted to add to the list. Most places, especially local government groups and nonprofit organizations, manage to make ends meet, because of the efforts of their volunteers. So they give back through education, parties, T shirts, free event entries, and the like. My 34 hours of Arboretum training cost me $25.00 and a commitment of 25 volunteer hours to the gardens for 2017. To me that’s heck of a deal. What I’m learning would easily cost me $500.00 through the local college. Plus, I’m getting hands on experience. You can also volunteer to help at county fairs for free admission; usher at concerts and listen to the music for free; re-seed burned forests in exchange for a weekend of free camping and more.
- I get to give back to my community. I am blessed to live where I live. We have the mountains, the river, great art events, awesome music, great neighbors and a city that cares about the people who live there. Giving back, to me is just a natural response.
- There is the promise of new possibilities. I can’t count how many new opportunities have presented themselves to me while I’ve been volunteering. I’ve met new friends, gotten job offers, networked, and solved problems I’ve been struggling with. You never know what you will find or what will find you. Just today, a woman I have been talking to at class, brought me a whole bag of plants! She knew I was looking for some and she had a bunch she was trying to clear from her yard. A win-win for both of us.
- I get exercise. For free.
- I can volunteer to do something I love. It’s my choice what, where and when I volunteer. It’s customized to my schedule and my interests.
There are as many ways to volunteer as there are volunteers. You can go long term, or just one day for a couple of hours. The choice is yours, the benefits are amazing.