Volunteering: Giving a bit of myself

Confession #1: Unfortunately, I used to view volunteering as the giving up of free time. Not wanting to give up my free time, I did not volunteer in the last 10 years while I had a full-time job. Yep. It’s out there; my shame is known.

We’re in a bit of a lull as far as traveling goes and though I’m filling my time with blogging, illustrating and knitting, I wanted to make sure I was contributing to the happiness and compassion of the world. I know I sound like a head-in-the-clouds hippy but that’s what I want to do with my life. I knew I needed to start volunteering.

Confession #2: I am an introvert. One of my worries about volunteering was that there would be a lot of talking and social interaction with a lot of strangers which generally just wears me out. I was thinking of situations like serving dinner at a soup kitchen or what John does: talking to hospice patients and family all day.

After spending five minutes on the VolunteerMatch website, I realized that not all volunteer opportunities are front-line, social situations. So I started scouring VolunteerMatch for volunteer opportunities having to do with the environment and animals and have started filling up my calendar.

I spent this weekend volunteering and now I really wish that I would have seen volunteering as an activity worthy of my free time rather than as something that was taking it away. I realize now that if I had found volunteering opportunities that aligned with my values, it would not have felt like I was losing my free time.

Air Potato Raid

John and I volunteered at an air potato raid this past Saturday at Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte, Florida. Not only was it fun but we helped remove one of the many invasive plant species in the area.

According to the park ranger, 1/3 of the plants we see in Florida are not actually native to Florida. Some of the non-native plants don’t do much harm but others, like the air potato, choke out other plants and grow out of control.

Man with a bag of air potatoes hiding behind a saw palmetto
John tromping through Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, removing air potatoes!
125 lbs of air potatoes

There were about 15 volunteers and we collected what seemed like a lot of air potatoes. The ranger told us that when they first started doing the air potato raids years ago, they would have about a 100 volunteers and would collect 2000 lbs of air potatoes. Because of the regularity of the raids and the introduction of the lily beetle that eats air potatoes, the amount of potatoes found has been reduced dramatically.

We learned something new and got to run around in the forest searching for and picking air potatoes. I’m not sure why, but I felt like volunteering was going to feel like a chore. I guess you just have to find the right thing.

CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm

On Sunday, John, my sister, her boyfriend, and I went to CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm to volunteer our time.

I didn’t find CJ Acres through VolunteerMatch, but through Facebook… while searching for random farms to follow on Facebook. (I know, I’m a dork, but I’m seriously interested in the goings-on of fiber farms — sheep, alpacas, etc….) I liked them on Facebook because I liked what they were doing for animals and this past week they posted a volunteer opportunity.

Jessy with George the horse
Jessy and George the horse

I didn’t realize that CJ Acres was 2.5 hours away from us before I signed us all up to volunteer there but I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand because it probably would have stopped us from a very fun and rewarding day.

Weirdo taking a selfie with a sheep
Me, ridiculously trying to take a selfie with Moses, the sheep

CJ Acres is a non-profit, volunteer-run farm that takes in abused and abandoned farm animals and rehabilitates them to be adopted to a new home. We spent our day with a bunch of new volunteers and permanent volunteers, as well as a co-founder of the farm, Lee. Lee has been rescuing farm animals for the past 30 years while working his day job in advertising.

Moses pretended to like me but he really just wanted more crackers.

The farm is just a happy, fun place full of animals being animals.

For three hours, we put hay in pig’s shelters for beds, shoveled horse poop (not as awful as I expected), cleaned out water troughs, and socialized with the animals to help them become more desirable for adoption.

Petting a turkey
Mike and Summer petting Thomas the turkey – he made the cutest little noises and flirted with everyone

It was really rewarding helping out the animals who had, for one reason or another, been abandoned or mistreated. And it didn’t feel like work.

We’ll definitely be putting in more volunteer hours here.

On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!
On CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm!

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

I am a bird lover and watcher. We put out food for the birds in our backyard and I let ugly bird-feeding bushes grow up around my backyard to give the birds extra food and shelter. I’ve been an Audubon Society donor for the past 10 years to help them succeed in their mission to make the world a better place for birds. I posted about the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey two years ago during my design challenge because I love what they do and it’s really cool to get up close and personal with the birds.

To continue on my quest of becoming the ultimate bird lover, I’ll be starting regular volunteer hours at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The center rehabilitates raptors (owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and vultures) for release back into the wild or keeps them safe if they can’t be released. I’ll be feeding raptors on Tuesdays and cleaning out aviaries on Fridays!

I hope this post inspires you to look for volunteer opportunities that you can do in your free time that you’ll love doing. Use VolunteerMatch to find nearby opportunities or just start with organizations that you already donate to.