In the wake of the bombing this month at the Boston Marathon, my facebook newsfeed was inundated with posts and statuses lamenting the state of the world today. Friends and family were sharing thoughts like “what is society coming to?,” “people are pure evil,” and “I fear for my children and their future.” This certainly isn’t anything new–it was the same story after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, and countless other tragedies since, excuse my cliche, the dawn of time. But this time these statuses gave me pause in a way they never really had before. Spending the last few months working with volunteers at the Accokeek Foundation through an AmeriCorps State program has given me an entirely new perspective. After spending so much time with so many wonderful and selfless individuals it’s impossible for me to feel so pessimistic about the “state of the world” today. My volunteers have shown me that for every tragedy like the Boston bombing there are just as many, if not more, acts of kindness happening every day.
My first real glimpse of what dedicated service to others looks like came in the form of our three volunteer winter farm assistants. In just three months, these individuals donated 235.75 hours to help run a winter farm market that would provide the community with fresh local farm produce throughout the cold winter months. They each spent about 20 hours a week working out in the fields in the middle of January and February to maintain and harvest the vegetables sold at the market they ran at the end of each week.
The farm market has since been followed by a string of volunteers who constantly challenge the idea that “no one would ever want to do that for free.” We now have with us a group of three volunteers who come every week to tend to the colonial cornfields in order to save our heritage breed of Virginia gourdseed corn; three volunteers who work in our gardens and take time to answer questions for visitors that stop by; two volunteers that work alongside farm staff on the Ecosystem Farm to share local, organic produce with the community; 11 volunteers that walk our trails each weekend to monitor the native bluebird population; nine volunteers who process wool from our heritage breed sheep and help teach others colonial textile arts; three volunteers who help educate the public about Southern Maryland food traditions; and two volunteers who are here every weekend to work with our heritage breed animals (everything from mucking the stalls to shearing our sheep). Each month, this dependable core of volunteers give the foundation and the community a resource which no one really has extra to spare–time. Time that could be spent doing a million other things, but which they choose to give in service of their community.
And it’s not just our regular volunteers that inspire me to feel this way. It’s the student service learning volunteers who come because a class required it of them, and stay because they found a community need they wanted to help satisfy. It’s the 11 students from Brandeis University in Massachusetts who gave up their spring break to volunteer. It’s the 62 people who gave up their Saturday morning to brave the cold and wind while picking up trash from the Potomac River shoreline. And it’s the 57 people who kicked off National Volunteer Week by spending a Sunday morning removing invasive species and preparing garden beds for Earth Day.
It is all of these people that I want to thank and honor this National Volunteer Week. I want to thank them not only for their service to our foundation, but also for what their service means and what their service inspires. In times of cynicism and despair, they remind us that if you take the time to look around your community, there are people there trying to make it a better place.