Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Profile of a volunteer

The best "volunteer" I've found this spring! I believe this is allium schubertii, which I planted a few years ago about 6 feet away from where it is now. It has never made it along this far. A late freeze has always prevented me from seeing the gorgeous allium that this is to become.

I'd like the shake the hand of the sunny woman or man who first coined the term "volunteer" in reference to weeds. A Mother Earth News article described some of the benefits of "volunteers" in the garden: They hold top-soil, pull up water and nutrients, provide food, help control insects and more. Human volunteers (now I'm talking in classic terms) do many of the same things - essentially providing fuel to keep an organization going. Who are these volunteers? Where do they come from? Why? What is the profile of a volunteer as YOU imagine it?

Subject A: Alison was/is my friend of the same age. She and her husband were here from England for a short period of time. While he had a work visa, she was not able to work legally in the US. Being a teacher by profession, and an intelligent, capable, and sociable person, she decided to volunteer at the Smithsonian in the Discovery Room, a hands-on learning center for children. Staying at home, knowing no one, and being idle was not her cup of Earl Grey.

Subject G: Though Grace has earned her right to sip lemonade on her sunny porch enjoying the leisure of retirement, she continues to work as a professional organizer. Despite an active social life and busy schedule balancing the lives of 5 grown sons and their large families, Grace still finds time to volunteer with two organizations - one in which she pays a weekly "friendly visit" to an elderly woman, and one in which she tutors English to speakers of other languages. Why? Because she's always felt she had something to give...that it's her responsibility to reach out.

I don't know what this is. It came up in the fall on my slope and looked too neat to be a typical weed. I've got an eyeball on this...

Subject I: I met a young woman in my Master Gardener class who mentioned that she spends her summers at the beach. When I asked which beach she vacationed at, I learned that she owns an ice cream shop that she runs from May to October. I asked what she did during the other months, and she said she mostly did volunteer stuff. Well, I didn't ask why, but my assumption is that she is accustomed to a full schedule and enjoys being productive - the ice-cream off-season, being no exception.

Subject P: I met another young woman (maybe in her late 20s?) during my first weekend volunteering at the National Arboretum. We chatted as we sat in a strawberry bed casually pulling weeds for 2 hours. Her motivation? Well, she has a Ph.D. in Nutrition, and has spent the first few years of her young career conducting research. She and her husband, another Ph.D., are waiting for a call from the Peace Corps telling them where in Southeast Asia or Africa they will be shipped off to. There, they will be able to fulfill their dream of giving back in a way that utilizes their knowledge and training. And in the meantime? Giving back in small ways right here is a great way to keep from pacing.

My other eyeball is on this. I saw several of these last year in this spot too, but pulled them all because I thought they were weeds. BUT, I vaguely recall planting some Chinese Lanterns here a few years ago that I thought just rotted away. Hmmm, flower or weed? Only time will tell.

Subject GT: I can't really pinpoint why I volunteer. I work in a high school, have a kid in preschool, and a kid in middle school. There are volunteer opportunities galore and I have been very active. A couple weeks ago, I volunteered to drive a large truck back to my work/school for the mulch sale (never mind that I'm not a truck driver). A co-worker said I had something on my forehead. When I went to wipe it off, she said it was a sign across the top that said, "sucker". Maybe I volunteer because I'm a sucker? I think I probably am a sucker to a certain extent, but ultimately, it's simply because I like to help. I'm in a helping profession, and always have been. When I hear of a need, I like to help fill it. Perhaps it's out of a genuine desire to help others, perhaps it feeds my ego, who knows. Either way, I see that similar to the flora volunteers in this post, I am stronger on my own turf due to my volunteering. I only hope that the organizations I volunteer for appreciate my contributions - it would not feel good to end up in the compost pile!


  1. Unemployment has risen so much in my city that now we have too many people volunteering hoping to network to find work. It's very saturating right now. Everywhere you turn, people are volunteering left and right. In a way, it's good but it affects a company from hiring fulltimers. Since they have people volunteering, they don't need to pay someone to work for them.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post very much Wendy! I think you are the best volunteer... one who listens well :-D And it is interesting to know that you can drive a big truck! Good that you volunteered ;-) Last week, my friend was speaking to a crowd of volunteers and she told them that everyone's contribution is like a key/alphabet in a typewriter... every key is crucial irregardless of their significance.

    Love that allium :-D The plant is looking really good.

  3. God please bless the VOLUNTEERS! They say the ultimate aim of the soul is to provide service, and you are doing that already. That means you are an old soul, whatever that means. Another meaning on the contrary is that an old soul comes again and again because it doesn't learn fast! hehe. (just trying to amuse you). By the way, i'd like to say that in plants the volunteers are normally the colonizers!

  4. Volunteers - that is a unique word to use in a garden..
    They sound like intruders when some unknown weeds sprouts (that's also means more work)

    Regardless, I don't think you are a "sucker" in anyway. A better word would be a gentle soul making the earth greener, productive and bringing joy & knowledge to the rest of the world.
    Now, isn't that nice?

  5. Good for you Wendy, so many things would fall apart if it wasn't for volunteers. I believe, the more you give, the more you get back!(not in a monetary way of course, lol).

  6. You have such a wonderful heart and you most certainly will have good things coming back to you. Many people don't volunteer because it's troublesome and some do it out of requirement (like at my company, all managers are required to do this). You do it out of compassion. Good for you!

  7. Hi Wendy~~ They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. The flip side, if you don't want to do it, hide. I made up that last part. I commend you for your efforts. And good luck on the flora volunteers too.

  8. I grow allium schubertii, too. It's such a cool, weird flower. Looks like something from a Star Trek movie. I volunteer more than I probably should. I have a hard time saying no. But, the rewards are priceless. Cheers to you for putting forth the effort!

  9. Hi Wendy, was at Rosebelle's place noticed your callsign. Interesting blog you have.
    Love your pics.
    Have a nice day and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

  10. WEndy..wonderful post..always insightful and inspiring..i enjoyed reading about all the differnt people. I also feel that every plant and weed has divine purpose and all exist together to create harmony !Brilliant post!
    have a magical day!

  11. It's funny, Our motto from PTA was "no good deed goes unpunished". Unfortunatly, no matter how much help you offer there is always someone commenting on how you should have done it. Well I say Get off your butt and volunteer to do it if you know so much. We help because it feels good to help and be part of something greater than ourselves. You have to do it for yourself and all the good you do for others in the process is just frosting on the cake. Good for you for volunteering to drive the truck. sounds fun.

  12. Thanks for your comments and great points!

    Grace - great motto. So true about asking a busy person!

    Kate - the schubertii is really coming along. It's unbelievable.

    RoseBelle - I really see what you're saying. When I was at the National Arboretum, they were saying that volunteers have logged ___ number of hours that equate to _____ dollars in service. I couldn't help but think that that data, may also be used by a corporation or company to say - hey, we don't even need to pay people for these jobs when we have volunteers to do the work.

    I guess there are some volunteer positions though, that don't directly serve to replace a paid worker - things that go above and beyond - like many school activities (international night, science fair, etc.)


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