Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Why Volunteer?

Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer. ~Author Unknown
Volunteering has become an important and regular part of life for my husband and me. He retired last year, and volunteers at several places relating to nature. I still have a full time day job and volunteer only on Saturdays. Why do people with busy lives, jobs, and families take time to volunteer?

The Nonprofit Kit for Dummies suggests some possible reasons:

  • Help the community and others. Helping others usually comes to mind first when people think of volunteers. But as you see when you read deeper in this list, their motives aren't always this simple.
  • Increase self-esteem. Volunteering makes people feel better about themselves. Giving a few hours a week, or even a month, to an organization creates good feelings.
  • Help out friends. Friends are often the first people we turn to when we need help. Volunteering also can create a great way to get together with friends on a regular basis.
  • Make new friends. Volunteering is usually a social activity. People use this opportunity to meet interesting people who share their interests and values.
  • Try out a job. People considering a job in the nonprofit sector often discover that volunteering is a good way to get a peek at what happens on the inside.
  • Polish their resumes. Adding volunteer experience to a resume shows a commitment to helping others or to working in a particular field.
  • Develop new skills. A volunteer job often gives people an opportunity to learn how to do something they didn't know how to do.
  • Enjoy something they love. Many volunteer jobs come with intrinsic benefits for their participants. Ushers at the symphony get to hear the music. Gardeners removing invasive plants from a native plant preserve get to spend a day in a beautiful natural setting.

Volunteers are individuals or groups who give their time, talent and abilities to a cause they believe in, without pay. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Several years ago, I saw an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about a new program called Naturalists @ Heart, to train volunteers at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. I had never been to the Falls in 30+ years of living in Louisville, but this caught my attention. When I was a Girl Scout, I dreamed of becoming a park ranger someday. I loved doing all the nature related badges offered by the Scouts, but decided that the math required for a science degree was not my cup of tea. Jokingly, I told Dick that I always wanted to know everything and here was my big chance to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming an almost-park ranger! Since becoming a Naturalist @ Heart, I have attended classes and studied about geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, history, and archeology, as well as photography, and how to interpret for our visitors. Now that I'm a veteran volunteer, I even help our coordinator with some of the training classes for new volunteers.

All the listed reasons apply to some extent, but I volunteer primarily to learn and share that knowledge with others. When a young child looks through the spotting scope at the birds in the river, you can always tell if he really see the birds or not. It's great when the kid's response is "Awesome!" One four-year-old knew all the names of the fossils in my Box O' Rocks. Another boy from Milwaukee had his grandmother from Chicago drive him to Louisville just to see the Falls.

Where will the next generation of people who love nature come from if today's children aren't exposed to it now? You never know when some child will develop a love of nature from spending Saturday morning at the Falls of the Ohio that she may turn into a career working with the environment as an adult. Maybe the bit of encouragement and enthusiasm I can give them on Saturday morning will make the difference. The older generations come and tell the stories of how they came to the Falls as youngsters, before it became a park. Their tales add depth to what we only read in history books about this area. Families return fossil collections to be used in our programs on a regular basis, commenting how much their grandparents enjoyed collecting them.

I get philosophical while standing on the river bank, enjoying the sun and birds, thinking about life during the time between visitors. So much has happened along those shores. Even though the park is not large, it's different every time I go there. The river floods or dries up in the drought. The birds stop at our bit of wilderness in the middle of a city while migrating each year. You can pretend that you are a pioneer, surrounded by unsettled land, trying to survive after your flatboat sank. Traveling back in time on weekends at the Falls keeps you humble, whether you travel back 200 years or 300 million years. Look how the earth changes, yet it still survives no matter what disaster strikes. Oh bla di, Oh bla da, Life goes on, yeah, Life goes on. Mother Earth always finds a way, and time doesn't matter at all. It's hard to get philosophical working all the time. At the Falls contemplation just comes naturally.

I was named the Volunteer of the Year at the Falls, and it's nice to be appreciated. Thanks to all of you. But coming to the Falls of the Ohio pays me in satisfaction. Overall, I volunteer because it adds to the quality of my life. And it's just fun!


Anonymous said...

"pays me in satisfaction". well said. I also liked the parts about being a pioneer and the changeability of the river.

Bob said...

Congratulations to you Kathy. As this essay surely shows, you are well deserving of the award. And how lucky Dick is to have a partner that loves nature as much as he does.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your essay on volunteering. You definitely get to the heart of why people give of their time and energy. All of us who volunteer or manage volunteers (I imagine many of us do both)will do well to reflect often on your words of wisdom.