Volunteering – How we got started – and some info…

We are in the process of getting ready for another volunteer to come in – Eric, a great young man who has stayed with us in the past- super , highly motivated youngster. Coyotes came through early this AM and got me up- I started cogitatin’ on  how much our volunteers have helped us over the years and a friend had asked the other day “What in the world actually got you started doing this?”

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So hang in there gang – this liable to get convoluted and long winded.

Simple answer was – “I had 16 acres  in herb’s and it was getting to be too much to do alone, even with a tractor, and a friend had told me a about WWOOF (WIlling Workers On Organic Farms) – that got the ball rolling- 200 plus volunteers later we are still at it! LOL

In reality it is a life long history of involvement. I grew up with parents who welcomed others into there home- they were always helping out a friend in need- letting them stay til they could get established. They also were community activists- helping establish programs, volunteering in groups , being board members for the Rodeos, horse associations,etc. Community building projects- before Habitat for Humanity folks would do house or barn raisings to help other s out who had lost a home to fire or were in need. So essentially it was a learned mind set.

Then my sister wanted to be a Girl Scout- What? No troop in newton county? wellllll ok….. so that was my first troop- early ’70’s — wow –

Got involved in helping at the food room then – friends were working in it and we saw a real need. Odd how the circle turns – we worked in it for a few years recently- 🙂 But back to the  whys-

Basically backed into it  unintentionally haha 🙂

My daughter and her friend  wanted to be Girl Scouts( This was during the three years we were in Harrison while Dad was so ill and needed to be closer in… )

My friend Sally and I looked into it- we started the first Daisy Girl Scout troop in Harrison- it was hilarious- the day before the parents meeting we held to set up the troop , I popped up with red splotches from stem to stern- chicken pox! Doctor Sharon laughed her bottom off.. I’d had it before- she said it happens – but the timing was horrible- LOL -thought I would get out of  the meeting but Sally went “Ohhhh no you don’t – if doc says you aren’t contagious you are COMING! ” So – yep ya guessed it –that troop ran 3 years with us – and then kept going for many years after.

Once we moved back home to Low Gap  , my daughter wanted to stay in Scouts- we ended up establishing 5 troops here in Newton County-parents and teachers- merchants- everyone contributed time and energy to seeing our girls had that opportunity ! The community really pulled together .

These young women did a service project each month – sometimes something as simple as baking cookies for the nursing home folks, other times the older girls got involved in things like the Eagle Hacking Program here in Arkansas- helping to get the Eagle population re-established.

They also helped us get the recycling program started- one of the girls helped Melba Murphy and me to find resources to buy the recyclable materials that we hoped the project would generate to pay it’s own way.. The girls busted glass in barrels down in tractor trailers by the library. I still have a picture in my mind of these girls how are now well groomed ladies covered in sweat , goggles on and big glove, hair stringing down their faces – lifting huge mauls over barrels of glass , busting it up- their food drives would fill 5-6 pickup loads for the food room twice a year.

Wonderful awesome volunteers! And behind them , the family and friends who backed them up- drove trucks, donated , encouraged them.. Parents who volunteered for the innumerable camping trips and hikes- the fashion shows , the school programs.. that spirit of community volunteerism is what makes us all stronger-

We have folks who are currently involved in community- the ones who become first responders and the volunteers who raise funds for those fire departments…These are same folks who start the farmer’s markets , and host community events-local restaurants who host Thanksgiving dinners –  the quiet , every day heroes who do the drudgery work – set up tables- sweep and clean the site for an event – haul the trash off- see the portapotties are clean.. unsung but heros!

Volunteering is about community – helping each other- but  it can be a  real learning tool as well.

While we host volunteers because we can really use the physical help , as hosts we have learned as much from our volunteers as they take away with them. One of our primary goals is to share what we have learned – we are both blessed in knowing many of the old time skills  – and we don’t want them to get lost along the way. We have found away to integrate these with modern life that works for us – so we try to share that out – pass it along. It is also a cultural exchange- learning different viewpoints, traditions and ways of doing things. My grandchildren have gotten to hear a variety of language from Mandarin to French to Portuguese…

Can being a host be risky- oh yeah!

I was recently asked “How can you take total strangers into your home like that? Aren’t you scared they’ll turn out to be a terrorist or some thing??” It has crossed our minds, of course!But we believe that it is important to judge each person by how they treat you- not what someone else has to say- sure – you listen to warnings- you set boundaries – and if they are crossed you make changes- but trust is being destroyed by an attitude of fear inthe world today- One of  our volunteers said that Americans were the most fearful people he had encountered! how sad, considering all the brave pioneers and explores we come from!

We decided to follow our instincts- to make it a point to trust them. Now, 200 plus volunteers later we have only have 4 negative experiences. Evidently we are doing something right – many of our folks have stayed in touch, coming back to visit again when they are able…

Practicality now- if you want to be a volunteer- it is important to be aware that you can get into a real culture shock – for instance our place- We live behind a creek that roars in rainey weather – the hill going out gets slicker than snot and has a 70 foot drop off on one side- so we don’t go out in bad weather 🙂 We don’t have modern plumbing- we heat with wood – have coon hounds who get really excited when they smell a varmint at 2 AM and can make a lot of racket! The bear comes to visit quite often- it is not unusual to wake up to a deer herd crazing in front of your tent- or a coon rummaging..

So it is important to ask where you will be sleeping, what you will be eating, what the bathing set up is like – how many hours you are expected to work – do you need to provide food etc. Trust your gut instincts- be aware that hosts are humans and can have grouchy days , even if they are nice folks…if something bothers you talk about it – if you can’t resolve it leave- with decent notice -ALWAYS  know the way out and have funds to get to a safe place. One of our most heartbreaking tales was a young man we dearly loved – who moved on down to another hosts place in middle Arkansas- the host ended up being a violent person – beat this youngster up- he left in the middle of the night – we drove all the way down to Conway area to get him – took him to ER and then he stayed with us til he recovered- broke my heart. So it can happen…be SAFE.

I volunteered  helping to build a number of different alternative homes- loved it – learned a lot of skill sets- met other of like mind and heart, was able to help someone get into a home or studio-

As a host – have waiver signed or carry a lot of insurance- we have been blessed to never have had a real incident- but it does happen – volunteers get hurt and then end up suing a host. so be SAFE.

Have clear cut guidelines about behavior- we have learned it is best to talk about them BEFORE your volunteers arrive haha. and really look at yourself- are you up to having a stranger in your home 24 -7 it can be disrupting- are you willing to teach as you go ? it can slow the working process down somewhat – then on the other side you are blessed with volunteers who have a lot of initiative like our Jada or Dani and Dave who see something needs doing and do it-check in to be sure it is ok , but go ahead and act ! Those are the treasures!

I believe we have to stretch our boundaries out- include others in our lives..build the old-fashioned community ties – the ones that make kids feel like they can go to a neighbors house if they get hurt and ask for hep- or the turn around – they see a neighbor elder who needs help – they jump in and do it. We touch base with each other during bad weather to be sure everyone is safe- has enough groceries a way to stay warm or cool – if a car is broken down on the side of the road , we stop  to be sure they are ok..the things we do to build community are just another title for volunteering



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