I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments.
Happy Monday! Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring. We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better. We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.
Why You Should Be A Volunteer:
Every Little Bit Helps
Volunteers make an enormous difference in the success of events and programs with small budgets. Imagine what our trails, parks, schools, and libraries would look like without volunteers. Search anything. Think of a cause or interest you’d like to support and you’ll find plenty of options.
You Are Providing A Viable Resource
Like I said, programs need volunteers. Of course, every budget could use some fluffing, but if you are rich in time and not dollars, volunteer! Or if you’re suspicious of handing over your money to organizations like the Red Cross. As a volunteer, you are the missing puzzle piece to a new after school art program or the difference between a shelter being able to manage twenty dogs instead of fifteen. Time is an extremely valuable resource. Ask yourself if your hours would be better spent inside in front of a computer or out in the community supporting a worthy cause or event.
You Learn New Skills
Volunteer opportunities rarely ask you to have experience, which means you’ll be expanding your skill set. If you’re contemplating a career change, volunteer in that sphere; if you think you want a new kitten, volunteer at the local SPCA. If you want to travel, but you’re a little nervous, volunteer with a program so that you’ll have a ready-made community abroad. Volunteering allows you to get involved with new things and develop new technical, social, and academic skills.
You Meet New Folks + Make Connections
Along with new experiences, you’ll also make connections and meet new friends. This could be especially helpful if you are contemplating a new career path. You’ll get an opportunity chat it up with other volunteers and leaders. You may meet someone who can help you or vice-versa. Beyond connections, you could potentially make new friends. If you recently moved to a new area, volunteering is a great way to meet people of different backgrounds interested in similar things. Volunteering allows you to meet a wide variety of people from all sorts of walks of life and making those connections, if only for a time, is a valuable practice in itself.
You Feel Great
Volunteering gives you a sense of accomplishment and it promotes personal growth. I think we all beat ourselves up a little bit. I know I’m guilty of negative self talk when I’m stressed or anxious. No matter what vendetta you have against yourself, volunteering will certainly take that off your mind. Volunteering shines a light on a community’s needs and fosters empathy and self-efficacy.
There Are Perks!
There are lots of perks to volunteering. If you volunteer at a museum, you often get into other museums around the country for free.
Sometimes Most times there is a free sticker or t-shirt involved. If you volunteer for a specific event, you’ll get in free. If not, you should, so speak up. Last year, I painted signs and delivered peppers to local restaurants in preparation for the Pepper Festival. I was able to get myself and my man into a $30 event for free because I sat around and painted signs! We ate and drank our weight for free. So remember, volunteering is the right thing to do andddd there’s plenty of perks!
Volunteering on the Appalachian Trail:
If you follow @liveseasoned on Instagram, you probably saw my adorable little cabin at the Konnarock Trail Crew base camp located near the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in West Virginia. At the end of June, I volunteered to work on the Appalachian Trail for five days. I had never done trail maintenance in the past, I just knew it looked like a skill I wanted to learn. While I don’t have lots of money to donate to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, I do have some spare time so I signed up for a work week and my application was accepted. I thought of this volunteer commitment kind of like a vacation. It was a great excuse to go hiking and camping, both of which I loved, and a good reason to stop thinking about life and ‘the real world’ for a few days. I’m also saving money for a trip and I knew I would be fed well for six days, which was an added bonus.
While on the trail, I learned plenty of new skills and I worked really, really hard. I’m not one to wake up early, but for six days straight, I was up at 6:30 a.m., on the trail at 8 a.m. and off the trail around 5 p.m. Waking up early was brutal on its own, but swinging a hoe, digging trenches, cutting out roots and smashing in wooden stakes with sledgehammers was totally exhausting. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard physically in my life. Truthfully, it was awesome to be pushed so hard. Going without your normal accommodations gives you more respect for a can of cold beer or a shower, or a can of cold beer in the shower, especially if you haven’t washed off for five long, muddy days. You don’t really realize your limits until you’re pushed and those five days actually weren’t that bad as hard as they were. Now I know I could survive on a chain gang 😉
I also learned some new-to-me Leave No Trace practices and trail maintenance techniques. I used a fire blanket for the first time too. Not the blanket you use to extinguish the flames, but the smaller version that you can build your fire directly on. That way the ground and surrounding rocks aren’t scorched. During my time on the trail, I learned how to fell trees, strip them of their bark and turn them into steps. I also learned how to dig drainage trenches, grade a trail, decide which roots to remove or keep intact and other small trail-cleaning techniques. Overall, I feel like I have a better sense of trail conditions, both good and bad. It was extremely rewarding when hikers would pass by and express their gratitude. I didn’t really deserve any of it, but I took their thanks and said a silent thank you to all the other volunteers and trail clubs that have worked a lot hard and longer than myself.
Part of the reason I volunteered with the Konnarock Trail Crew was to gain experience not just on the trail, but in a team dynamic. I have played around with the idea of becoming an adventure guide and with that type of work, cooperating in group settings out in the field is absolutely key. I figured I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but I wanted to make sure it was something I’m comfortable with in case I ever apply for an outdoor adventure guide job. Like I thought, I got along great with the other volunteers and crew leaders. I love meeting new people and asking lots of questions (I guess that’s the journalist in me) so spending time on the trail and bonding with strangers was no problem at all.
Besides trail maintenance experience, I was also hoping to meet some Appalachian Trail through hikers and lucky me, there were two in my group, a male and a female. I asked those two SO many questions about their hike that they were probably annoyed with me by the end of the week, but I love learning first-hand trail and travel experiences. It’s so valuable to hear things like, “I didn’t prepare at all,” or “I had a faint idea of what I was doing before I started,” or “I didn’t purify my water once,” all those perspectives are unlike my own, yet comforting to know those folks survived and persevered on the trail. Hearing about their trail experiences, from the wonderful to the horrible, sparked a tiny flame deep in my knees, I’m saying it here in writing, one day I’ll hike the entire Appalachian Trail. If I had the money, I would absolutely do it during the summer of 2016, but it might take a little longer to fund that adventure.
Besides the through hikers, I met a girl who lives in Chapel Hill and she’s freaking awesome. I realized on day three that I actually saw her around before and wanted to compliment her on her beautiful pants, hah! What a weird, little world. It was really nice to meet and connect with people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. My crew leader actually met his current girlfriend while volunteering with Konnarock during past seasons.
When you meet new peeps, your world expands a bit. You learn how others think, act and perceive the world around them. In volunteer settings, you’re often surrounded by admirable people who will unknowingly impart some knowledge during their stint with you. This was certainly the case for each and every crew member I worked with. Being surrounded by such awesome strangers gives you a restored faith in humanity just knowing there are plenty of good people out in the world you haven’t met yet, it’s not all jackasses you learn about on the internet.
At the end of the day, volunteering is a rewarding and positive experience on so many levels. I find it especially meaningful if you devote your hours on behalf of someone else. I don’t mean in some official way, but kind of as a silent meditation. Last year, a friend of our family and avid hiker passed away, I had been struggling to find a way to memorialize him properly when I came across the Konnarock Trail Crew volunteer website late at night. It struck me that putting in service hours was a proper tribute for someone who cared so deeply about the conditions of the trails we always hiked together. Honestly, he bitched about every single trail we ever walked on and I laughed my ass off during every second of it. I swear his version of comedy was pessimistic observation and it never got old because it was always followed by a good chuckle or a ‘here we go again,’ comment followed by more hilarious complaints. During my five days on the trail, there was a lot of time to think about Frank Fullmer and his legacy. He certainly touched my life during our times on the trail and I know for certain he’s altered hundreds, if not thousands, of others through the years as a coach and mentor. I admired how often he stopped on the trail to take photos, how he never cut our lunch breaks short even if a storm was rolling in, and how he wrote in his moleskin notebook every night before he crawled into his sleeping bag. The comedy of his irreverent hypocrisy wasn’t lost on any of us (himself included) and always made for great campfire conversation. He always said, “no bullshit” and I believe that to this day he didn’t bullshit anyone. He always said exactly how he felt and one respected and admired him for that, which is probably why so many people in the community cared deeply for him. Volunteering on the Appalachian Trail, far from cell and internet service, gave me the space, time and perfect setting to remember a dear friend and father figure in my life and that is truly the type of treasure that only an experience like this can offer. I hope this post inspires you to volunteer this year. You don’t have to give up your vacation time, one hour per week, month, or year is plenty more than most offer and it is all deeply appreciated by organizations everywhere.