I’m great at starting things and bad at finishing them. For this reason, I try to avoid long-term plans and commitments. Who has the time? What if things change between now and then? What if tomorrow I’m mauled by a tiger while walking down Pike Street? What good will all my plans be then, hmmm??? You can never tell with this stuff.
That’s why I liked Flash Volunteer even before I started working for them. Everything in our culture is going ‘On-Demand’, why not volunteering, too? If you’re a person like me, you don’t have to worry about long-term commitments or your ability to finish something; you can just start a bunch of good small things during your down time, and eventually- who knows- maybe you’ll have helped finish one good BIG thing.
This logic all sounds great until your friend uses it on you to convince you to volunteer on a dreary Saturday morning when you were planning on sleeping in. My friend mentioned he’d be doing some environmental restoration in West Seattle and I asked if it was part of Duwamish Alive!, an event we had been promoting on FlashVolunteer.org. His eyes lit up as if I had just signed a blood oath to become his volunteering sidekick, and he spent the next few minutes needling me to make it happen. We would feel great afterward, he said. It’s better with a friend, he said. He wore me down, and besides, I probably don’t deserve to work for a volunteer organization if I can’t join a friend for a few hours of environmental cleanup on an otherwise unoccupied Saturday.
And of course, he was right. Have you ever actually heard someone complain about how unfulfilling and pointless a volunteer experience was? Me neither. Volunteering is a little like ripping off a band-aid, but then finding delicious chocolate underneath. Okay, that sounds gross. What I mean is- there are always some early nerves about volunteering. What do I have to do? For who? For how long? Once you get your feet in the water, though, it’s almost impossible to not enjoy yourself.
My friend and I got a good breakfast, then joined other volunteers and leaders from Earthcorps and Nature Consortium in removing prickly invasive blackberry plants on the Duwamish Greenbelt. It wasn’t glamour work, but the weather cleared up just for us, and I swear I wasn’t the only one man-grunting with satisfaction when I would finally pull up a particularly difficult cluster of roots.
We could see our work, too; the forest was significantly cleaner than when we started as we gave more space to native species and created large compost piles in the process. And volunteering with a friend, it never felt too much like work. We ate a grand Viking meal afterward, chewing with slow satisfaction as we sat covered in dry mud.
I slept well that night, partly because I was exhausted, but also because it felt like I earned it. Everyone wants to do good, but the only way you can know if you’re doing true good is if your helping your community with no expectation in return. That’s why you don’t hear bad volunteer stories: the good deed is actually its own reward.
I hadn’t finished anything, but I had helped start something, something important. And that’s all I have to do- keep starting things until one day I’ve helped finish something important. Who wants to join me?
-Blake Madden, Social Media Manager