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One of the best things about leaving the rat race for me, especially since I moved to a new town in the transition, is Volunteering.

I have always been drawn to Volunteering but, in the past, pushed much of this activity to the brief snippets of time I could find in a very busy schedule. I was able to find some time to volunteer at Tom’s schools through the years, but never as much as I wanted.  I did the trips to the Indianapolis Zoo and School for the Blind with Tom’s classes, did Career Days and judged Science Fairs. Dan and I did several plantings for native plant pond restoration and community rain gardens, we were on the board for Keep Noblesville Beautiful and we became certified DNR Tree Stewards volunteering with tree pruning events.  In the greater community, I created an Upcycling Booth for the Irvington Skillshare and volunteered my time in a Remote Reiki Sharing group. But I always felt like I wanted to do more.

When I retired from SDI, I headed out on a road trip where I visited Dancing Rabbit EcoVillage in Rutledge, Missouri. I got an opportunity to begin my post-rat-race volunteering by clearing gardens, cooking food for the group, cleaning the common house, feeding animals, eviscerating chickens and dumping humey (humanure) buckets.  I loved every minute, in large part because I was so impressed with the people of Dancing Rabbit and their commitment to their mission:

To create a society, the size of a small town or village, made up of individuals and communities of various sizes and social structures, which allows and encourages its members to live sustainably.*

To encourage this sustainable society to grow to have the size and recognition necessary to have an influence on the global community by example, education, and research.

*Sustainably: In such a manner that, within the defined area, no resources are consumed faster than their natural replenishment, and the enclosed system can continue indefinitely without degradation of its internal resource base or the standard of living of the people and the rest of the ecosystem within it, and without contributing to the non-sustainability of ecosystems outside.

See more at: http://www.dancingrabbit.org/about-dancing-rabbit-ecovillage/

When I got to Alexandria, Minnesota October 5th last year, one of the first things I did was register to vote.  That first week, I also visited the DFL office and volunteered to work.  Soon after, I got asked to run the Get Out the Vote (GoTV) program which I did through the election.  It was exciting to meet so many people in such a short time.  I learned about the VAN system that MN uses to track voters and it was amazing to see the programs in place for contacting people and getting information to them.  I did door knocking and got to see a bit more of the community.  I was able to learn about local issues and get a better idea of what Minnesotans are all about.  It was definitely busy and I gave lots of time.  But I made lots of friends and felt so good about being a part of a greater cause.

I also got involved with Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL).  I’d been to a meeting of the Alexandria Chapter years back when I was visiting Mom and the group’s meeting coincided with my visit. The local CCL Chapter is working to encourage our Representatives in Washington, D.C. to implement a Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D).  CCL Chapters, with input from REMI, have done much work to educate that CF&D would benefit the people of this country while holding accountable those that generate carbon pollution.  It would also protect domestic corporations from foreign corporations that bring fossil fuels into the US.  Learn more here: http://citizensclimatelobby.org/remi-general-findings/  Much like the regulations regarding Acid Rain several decades back, CF&D could help alleviate issues with Climate Change related to carbon in the atmosphere. Today I am a co-leader for the group, working on Outreach to community organizations to share information regarding CF&D and garner support for the CCL effort.

When winter set in, I began getting involved with Community Education.  I took classes on foreign film studies and natural burial, which eventually led me to teach a winter course called “Dying to Talk!” where we discussed end-of-life issues.  It was so fulfilling to meet with people and share ideas about life and death, which gave us all better perspectives on how to live more fully and die with more peace.  This coming season I will also be teaching a class on crafting. https://alexandria.thatscommunityed.com/course/adult-fall-2015-summer-2016/coasting-to-creativity

I did Career Day presentations for 6th graders at Discovery Middle School where I talked about being a Metallurgical Engineer.  I think the kids really enjoyed it and I sure did.  They asked some good questions and I got no calls from parents, even though we did talk about the dangers of working in a steel mill, including fatalities.  You know, you might be surprised to learn all the things your average 6th grader hears during a school day…

I also worked this past year with Voyager Elementary School maintaining their Book Room.  This involved sorting and making available new book resources and re-shelving books used by teachers and volunteers for small reading group sessions.  I learned about Fountas and Pinnell book levelling which has occasionally been a help to me in my work at Cherry Street Books.

Dan and I have been able to get involved a bit with Rail River Folk School in Bemidji near our retirement place.  We donated goods and helped set-up for their garage sale fundraiser and we’re hoping to provide continued support in many ways to the efforts of the fine folks at RRFS.  They offer lots of educational programs and have a lovely used book store where you can buy books by the pound.  http://railriverfolkschool.org/

We volunteered to Farm Sit for our friends Paul and Sara who have a small homestead farm with their kids, Kate & Wyatt.  Our goat sitting allowed them to have some vacation time over the last several years.  And we got a chance to learn a bit more about goats, chickens, rabbits, horses, birds and dogs.  We already had the cat part down. 😉  It takes a bit of work to keep the farm going but the bigger issue is the DAILY aspect of it.  You just can’t take off for a weekend, or even a day, when you have goats to milk.  Quite a commitment.

This summer I was able to volunteer at the Theatre L’Homme Dieu which gave me access to the shows for which I didn’t have tickets and let me see a bit more about the inner workings of the operation.  What a beautiful setting – an old resort turned theatre. Show people are super fun and I enjoyed the work at TLHD so much that I just contacted the Quad-A Theatre in town to get involved there!

More recently I joined Friends of the Library which is an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the Douglas County Library. https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfTheLibraryDoulasCoMN?fref=nf  They process donated books and sell them at the library and at an annual book sale.  This effort involves processing thousands of books for a two-day sale (well, three days if you count the pre-sale day to Friends).  I worked all morning putting out books on Social Sciences, Science, Reference and Fiction and then came back for the sale that afternoon.  I don’t know what the total sales were but I took home a few bags and I am glad my dollars will benefit so many by supporting our local library.  Some of the books I bought will be gifts, some I will read and pass along and some are keepers for our home library. This photo shows the tables of books in the main room of the Armory; there was a second room about half this size as well.

Friends of the Library Sale 2015

And most recently, Dan, Mom and I volunteered this past weekend to support the Tour de Pines ride (http://ironmanbikeride.org/) for the Mississippi Headwaters Hostel, the only hostel in the state. (http://www.hiusa.org/minnesota/park-rapids/mississippi-headwaters-hostel)  This 25, 50, 60 & 70+ mile bike ride is a fundraising event for the Hostel and gives people an opportunity to not only ride in beautiful Itasca State Park, but also to see the Headwaters Hostel located therein.  There were over 200 riders who ventured out this year.  We arrived a day early to help with meal prep and spent from noon to 9 PM chopping veggies, making taco meat and finalizing the preparations for the event.

Tour de Pines 2015

On the day of the ride, Mom handled the call center at the Hostel answering questions and getting help to stranded bikers along the way. Dan and I manned Rest Stop #1 at the 8 mile mark of the ride.  We had snacks, water, Gatorade, paper towels and a bathroom for the riders.  We gave them info on the route and when lunch would be served while also helping riders with bike malfunctions.  We cheered on those who rode past yelling out “Four miles to the next stop!” as they went flying down the hill. We met a great variety of people and enjoyed a lovely day in the park, though it was quite hot.  Heading back to Headwaters Hostel about 10:30, we joined Mom to help get lunch ready.  It’s a major undertaking to feed 200 people tacos, beans, rice and all the fixings! We learned a lot, burned a lot of calories and made some new friends.  Hostel Manager Sara’s friend Judy was a joy to meet and a real Energizer Bunny in the kitchen – she just kept going and going!

I’ve been thinking.  And there are three about Volunteering that I find amazing.

First, I believe that, if people had more time and gumption to volunteer, we’d have great civic involvement and a lot less problems in this country. People could find purpose and many would spend less time shopping and more time experiencing.  Teens would find ways to know what they love doing before they were college bound and trying to figure out a major.  Little Ones and Elders would feel important as they’re supported in various activities.  Life would be more about interacting rather than simply working and spending. If we knew we could count more on each other, life would be less focused on money.  We would focus on each other.  And people would have more friends!  I have met hundreds of people and many of my new friends in Minnesota joke about how I know everyone in town.

Second, as I read over all the fun things I’ve shared above, it seems a bit self-congratulating, like I’m doing all this work and giving so much.  But the amazing thing about Volunteering is that you get so much more than you give!  It’s not so selfless, though sometimes it can be.  The truth is, I probably had more fun than those kids when I did Career Day, but they had more fun than doing a worksheet on “What I’m Going to be when I Grow Up”.  We had dialogue about life and choices. They shared ideas about themselves and I was able to give them some input on Engineering as a career choice.  And I got lovely thank you notes from many of the kids.

Finally, Volunteering is a way to spread love.  When you give to a cause, financially or physically, you put energy toward that cause and the people it helps.  You make a difference and earn good Karma.  It has been a joy to my life to have time now to give to others, rather than giving most all my hours to a job just to make money.  I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do this and thanks go to the many people in my life who make it possible, especially my Mom & Tom.  And the benefits go way farther than I can ever imagine.  I know every time we give of ourselves, this is true for each of us. Sometimes we get a glimpse of how big a difference we make.  A grateful smile, a word of thanks, recognition from a fellow volunteer.  But often, the gift we give is only truly known by those who’ve received our help.

Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in a world all of your own. ― Albert Schweitzer

Here are a couple ideas if you want to find an opportunity to spread your love and make a difference:

  • Volunteer at the Library. It’s a great way to stay up to date on the newest literature and learn a bit more about where to find things when you need a resource.
  • Plant a tree! Find a way to enhance the environment, either with a gardening club or local group that works on plantings in the community or educating people on trees, ponds or birds.  Your local University Extension office can be a good place to find an activity.
  • Become part of a Civic Group like Rotary, Kiwanis, Toastmasters or the League of Women Voters.
  • Be a Big Brother or Big Sister or find a youth group that needs a mentor or helper. Maybe become a 4H Leader.
  • Volunteer at the local Senior Center or Rehabilitation Facility. A great way to feel good helping someone who has limited resources in their later years or someone who has found themselves in need of some assistance due to illness or injury. If you have skills as a reader or musician, you can bring some joy to someone while enjoying your own hobby.
  • Teach a Class. Great places for this are your Church, Continuing Education through your local School District or maybe start your own thing and create a group of learners in your community (more on this in an upcoming blog).
  • Join the local Theatre. Be an actor, an usher or a concession helper.  Or maybe you can build sets or have items they could use for an upcoming performance.  There’s a reason it’s called Community Theatre!  Everyone in the community can play a part in making it happen. (Did you see what I did there? 🙂 )
  • Build a house! Habitat for Humanity can use volunteers for building homes or working in their Re-Store operations.  A great way to learn new skills and get first access to the latest donated items.
  • Deliver Meals on Wheels. Who doesn’t like food?!?
  • Help at the local school. Educational funding has dropped in many places.  Helping kids learn or helping a teacher with their class is a great way to get a laugh and feel good about yourself.  Little kids are really adorable and even the most angst-filled of teens sometimes slip and show you they are grateful for your involvement.
  • Check out this link: http://www.networkforgood.org/volunteer/

I wish you the best in finding your own path to fun and fulfillment.  And I can’t wait to hear stories of how volunteering has made a difference in your life. 🙂