Guest Blog from Mary Meier, Natural Resources Specialist at North Clackamas Parks and Recreation
This is my third term with Americorps and over the time I have served I often end up struggling to define my motivation for Americorps service. Recently I bumped into a very simple but perfectly apt explanation. Flying over the holidays is stressful and tiring, I often find myself very introverted and, quite frankly, cranky during the experience. This December, when the pilot came over the intercom to tell us that rather than taking off we were going to be unloading, walking through the airport and re-boarding a different plane because of an equipment malfunction. Well, I don't think I was the only one a bit miffed. I found myself in a dauntingly long and snaking line of less-than-thrilled humanity surrounded by carry on bags and totes. I was trying to keep my spirits up when someone I had never met turned, and noticing an Americorps logo on my bag, asked if I had served. All of a sudden we were having a warm and pleasant conversation about our time and activities with Americorps; joking, smiling and recounting volunteer experiences despite the fluorescent surroundings.
People feel good about their time with Americorps; even if days are often long and experiences are sometimes emotionally or physically tiring. These are experiences that bring people together and connect them to their community and natural environment while providing concrete benefits to non profit organizations working to make our society more equitable and sustainable.
But it is clearly not just about making us feel good. It is important to make sure we are having an impact on the ground and in the lives of others. I was leading a volunteer work party and educational event for a group of high school-aged young adults a couple months ago. The attention and interest of a group of volunteers can vary immensely and there are days where I’m not sure that I’m really connecting. I was having one of those days. One of the students took a particular interest in the native plants we were working around and asked me a question. I stopped worrying about the event and took a little time to answer her question, prompt a couple more and share a snippet of my own love of botany. At the end of the work party my site supervisor brought everyone together, thanked them for coming and asked a simple question, "Did anyone learn something they want to share today?". The same student once again pulled me out of my own logistical concerns. Her hand shot up and she said "sedges have edges and rushes are round", which is a familiar little rhyme I had mentioned while we were talking about identifying wetland plants. I felt like I had connected.
Work parties and volunteer events can be a lot of things. They can be an introduction to restoration and community involvement, an ongoing way for people to give back, or a fun way to spend the day outside, but they are always about connections. Sometimes the simplest way to value them is to revel in these connections and appreciate that this Americorps experience makes us, and the people we interact with, more likely to find, instigate and pass on connections within our communities and the natural world.