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Commentary by Sarah Brewer Thompson
| Thursday, May 15, 2014

sarahbrewerthompson_mugIt’s funny. I have noticed that in terms of volunteering, there are three types of people: those who have no interest in working for free; those who wouldn’t necessarily volunteer on their own but often get lassoed in by their friends or significant others; and those who have an inherent passion for lending a hand.

I suppose as a kid I fell into the second category, although I remember always having a good time with most of the duties I got roped into (except maybe trash duty – that was never that fun).

My parents were big (and I mean very big) on helping out. That is what you do in a community like Agua Dulce, where I grew up. They helped out at our schools, with the local organizations and events like the Chamber of Commerce, Country Fair and Parade, Fourth of July celebrations, events at Vasquez Rocks, and many more that I can’t even recall. All I know is, there was no time that passed by when they weren’t busting their butts to help out, even after working six days a week and raising two energetic little girls.

I will always be grateful that I grew up in a house like this. As cheesy as it sounds, it really has played a major role in shaping who I am. Being a volunteer has become a major part of my identity and has helped shape how I think, what I enjoy, how I spend my time, and whom I spend it with.

sbt1As any volunteer will tell you, there are many, many benefits to volunteer work. There are the obvious ones, like helping run and support an organization that couldn’t survive or operate without donated labor. For example, the things that make life in our valley so great – our festivals, Pow-Wows, the fairs and parades, holiday celebrations, our nature centers, animal rescues, and much more – simply would cease to exist if they had to compensate all of the many hands that help them operate on a regular basis.

It is a sign of an advanced economy and society where people can afford the luxury of having the time to give back. It’s difficult to do that when your sole focus is on food and shelter. Every day I am thankful that I live in a time and place where I can do what I do and live so comfortably, and have the physical and financial ability to “work for free” as some of my less optimistic friends put it (although for us, we usually see it as a privilege, not a chore).

Aside from the good you do for your group or organization, there is an indescribable benefit that comes to you when you give your time and skills. This is not to say volunteer work is all hunky-dory. As you will hear from any regular volunteer of any organization, this is sometimes not the case. It can be frustrating or exhausting at times, especially if you are highly involved in planning and execution of an event or club. You get all types of people, from various walks of life, working together to make something happen. These people who step up are usually highly passionate about what they are doing, meaning you can have conflicts that arise or personalities that clash. I cannot think of one volunteer group that I have worked with that hasn’t had this happen, but it nearly always works itself out when the volunteers keep in mind the bigger picture.

sbt2It isn’t really that surprising, when you think about it, because there really isn’t anywhere humans can’t find something to argue about. The beautiful thing here is that because you are a volunteer, you can choose which tasks you take on, whom you work with, and when you do it. If only the professional world could afford its workers such luxuries.

Although there are times when things are tough, there is an overwhelming reward that overshadows times of frustration. One of the greatest parts about volunteering is that you get opportunities you may never have in your professional career. Great examples are the animal handling programs at parks such as Vasquez and Placerita. It is such a cool feeling to be able to handle and properly care for an animal you would normally only observe from afar, such as snakes, lizards, birds and tarantulas. I have known docents at parks like Placerita who dedicate so much of their time that they have actually been trained to handle birds of prey, such as a barn or great-horned owl.

Only someone who can dedicate a tremendous amount of time can do this, and I think it is remarkable that they give so much and dedicate so much of their personal time to working with a particular animal. It really is amazing, and where else would they get a chance to do something like that and form a bond with an animal most of us could only dream of handling?

sbt4Another rewarding aspect – for me, at least – is that you learn useful technical skills, aside from the ones that are just fun (like how to handle a gopher snake). A good example came last year when our beloved Agua Dulce Country Fair and Parade was in jeopardy due to a lack of volunteers to run it.

I have loved helping out with the fair since I was a kid and have done everything from helping with the beer booth and working the front gate to running the photo contest, getting dunked in the dunk tank, helping run games, and perhaps my favorite, serving our world-famous baked beans to our great patrons. Last year, however, there was an urgent need to fill the vacancy of the parade chairperson position.

Some of my favorite memories as a kid in Agua Dulce come from our one-of-a-kind, down-home parade, and when we realized it was at risk for not happening at all, I hesitantly jumped in to see if I could help. I had never run a parade before … from pulling permits with Public Works and the CHP, to organizing the many entrants the day of (many of whom are on horseback, camel-back, and anything else you can imagine), organizing a parade is a LOT of work. I don’t know what would have happened without the incredible help of my co-chair and the rest of our little committee, but somehow we did it.

sbt3I never would have thought I could have helped do something like that, but it was an immensely satisfying experience to see this little tradition live on, and to see myself contribute in a meaningful way to a great event. I’ll never forget the moment of watching the last entry bring up the rear of the parade, and taking a moment to feel proud of something we did with our own hands.

Another great aspect of being a volunteer is the incredible flexibility you have. A simple Google search for organizations in your area, whether in a big city or a tiny town, can turn up dozens of groups in need of help, whether only a few hours per month or on a weekly basis. Various animal rescue organizations, parks, clubs, events and just about anything else you can imagine that goes on out here most likely needs your help, and you can usually find all sorts of things that will interest you.

It is easy these days to feel overwhelmed and too busy to do something like this, but it is really amazing what even a few hours a month can do. When you see the joy that comes from those you are helping, it really is a great feeling, unlike anything else.

If you are able – and even if you think you aren’t – do yourself a huge favor and try it just once. I promise you, it will be an experience from which you will learn a lot, and you never know. You just might find a whole new community to welcome you with open arms.

 

Sarah Brewer Thompson was born and raised in Agua Dulce, where she learned to love and appreciate nature and history. She is a master’s student at California State University, Northridge, and a docent at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Her areas of interest are local history, archaeology and animal studies.

 

sbt8

 

Comment On This Story
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6 Comments

  1. Laura Ridnor Laura Ridnor says:

    The Kiwanis Club of Santa Clarita needs new members. Help out with our 5k run, our Aktion Club or key Clubs.

  2. Laura Ridnor Laura Ridnor says:

    The Kiwanis Club of Santa Clarita needs new members. Help out with our 5k run, our Aktion Club or key Clubs.

  3. Live in Santa Clarita? Looking for family fun and help a great local charity at the same time!? Join us Saturday May 24th at Valencia Lanes!
    https://www.facebook.com/events/1444521835795235/

  4. Lety Garcia Lety Garcia says:

    The Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer….

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