The information contained in this post is based on personal experience and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician before making changes to your treatment plan.
A couple weeks ago I went camping with a bunch of teenagers from our church. They got to try a variety of activities, including whittling wood, pottery, swimming, leatherwork, etc. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I taught the leatherwork class. 😊
(some of the girls working on their projects: campfire mugs)
I was able to participate in a similar youth camp two years ago, and it was a rewarding experience, so when I was asked to participate again this year, I jumped at the opportunity.
I enjoy serving others, and do so on a regular basis in our church and Scouting communities. But those opportunities are primarily for me, an adult, and I'm careful to only commit to those things I know I can handle physically. I believe that we should set the example for our children and talk about why we do what we do, but I also think that they need to serve others themselves. However, it’s not always easy to find service opportunities that children can participate in or that you can participate in if you have chronic health issues.
Our Volunteer Experience
Last fall the kids and I started volunteering at our local botanical garden. Originally, we were just looking for an organization that would benefit from an Eagle project, but we've continued to volunteer there because it's a good fit for us and we enjoy it.
After our first time helping at the garden, each of the kids mentioned that they had a good time and when were we going to help at the garden again. With a wide range of ages (at the time they were 16, almost 9, and 7), it’s a challenge to find an activity that appeals to everyone.
First, I have to show off our daughter's Eagle project. This spring she planned, coordinated, and then directed the building of a log labyrinth at the botanic garden. Isn't it cool? It was a lot of work for her (and me, coaching her in the background), but it was such a great learning opportunity for her.
(The only thing purchased for this project was the fence at the back to keep people from falling into the stream just beyond it. The logs, wood, and mulch were upcycled from the garden and our property. The benches are part of another Scout's Eagle project and frame the labyrinth quite nicely.)
Now, on to why we love volunteering at the botanic garden. There's actually several reasons.
The volunteer grouping we participate in meets just two mornings a month, for two hours each. There are other volunteer opportunities that meet more frequently or on irregular schedules, but the first and third Wednesday of each month is a schedule that works for us. At the same time, if we need to take a week off, it's not a problem- it's very low key.
Because the volunteer time slot is a weekday morning, the majority of the volunteers are older retirees. It's a great opportunity for us to talk with and hear stories from older individuals. This is especially beneficial since the kids' grandparents all live in Colorado and we don't get to spend time with them on a regular basis. A number of the older volunteers have told me how much they enjoy listening to my kids talk, even if they don't always understand everything they're talking about (my youngest tends to talk a lot about his favorite video game characters), so they enjoy the interaction as well.
We think that this is because of the demographics, but the work we do tends to be easier, lower intensity tasks. My daughter appreciates this because she's helped with some Eagle projects that were pretty intense and everyone was rushing to get as much done as possible in as short a time as possible. I appreciate it because it's tasks the boys (now 8 and almost 10) can do, which isn't the case with a lot of volunteer opportunities currently available.
I also appreciate the easier pace because my chronic health issues have really done a number on my stamina and energy levels this past year. The slower pace combined with the two hour time limit works for me. I'm getting better at sticking to time limits when I work on projects, but that's a habit that is still a work in progress.
One of my sisters was a horticulture major in college and we roomed together my senior year. I have distinct memories of her having to memorize hundreds of plants that year- what they looked like, their scientific and common names, and more. She memorized them, but I did not; I was busy studying animal-related topics for my animal science degree. My knowledge of plants is limited, at best.
Over the years I've become more familiar with plant names and their uses, but I can't always match names to plants. As we've worked at the garden, the kids and I have been able to start putting names to plants. We recently weeded a spot in the garden and there were specific native plants that we left in place while we pulled out the invasive species.
(my middle kiddo weeding a wildflower bed while keeping water close at hand in his collecting pockets)
This botanic garden is still in its early years, so there's a lot of work and projects that need to be done. Knowing that we're having an impact as we haul away winter storm-downed branches, weed the wild flower bed or along the paths, or even just pick up trash on the steep hill below a road is gratifying.
We read an article in a local paper that was talking about the author's experience visiting the botanic garden over the last few months, and they mentioned walking a trail and coming across a labyrinth where a weed-filled field had been the week before. While it's not necessary to receive recognition for every act of service that we do, it is nice when others notice and appreciate our efforts, whether it's a small task like weeding or a larger project like our daughter's Eagle project labyrinth.
I used to hit our local trails park several times a week to run with our dog or hike with the kids, but my health has been such a challenge this last year that we haven't been able to do that. While I hope to be able to get back to that routine, spending time in nature right now is still a challenge. Volunteering at the botanic garden helps us be more intentional with our time in nature while still keeping within my current physical limitations.
If you're looking for an outdoor volunteer opportunity, I encourage you to check out your local botanical garden to see if it'll be a good fit for you. If you've discovered other service opportunities that are good for families or people with health challenges, I'd love to hear about them!