Yesterday (Tuesday) I started a new volunteer position with an organization I really look up to: The Pittsburgh Project. I'm a garden volunteer, which means that I actually go to work once a week in their small farm (reclaimed from an abandoned baseball field!) - weeding, tying up tomatoes, planting, harvesting, and helping the community regain something important - food security. Our neighborhood is a "food desert". There are few stores and what is available is often not the healthiest. Gardening isn't a way of life here. Abandoned lots fill with weeds and detritus from the streets. Kids leave candy wrappers and drink bottles on sidewalks.
It's not barren, but there's little hope. You can see it in the faces of the people here and in the run-down houses, with rotting porches and loose shingles that owners can't afford or don't care to fix. The Pittsburgh Project is working to change that by focusing on youth education and community service in a way that empowers the people they help. They help those who can not help themselves. They teach the local kids environmental stewardship, gardening skills, home maintenance, leadership and interpersonal skills. They have programs which attract mission groups from all over the country who come to provide destitute homeowners with home repairs and cleanup. It's an amazing project and it's making a difference. The park across from their headquarters is low-priority for the city, but they've kept up the maintenance, cleaned up the areas that used to be drug havens, planted gardens and re-opened the pool. The kids love it. The after-school and summer programs are full. There's work to be done!
Someone asked me why I'd bother doing something that's bringing in no money and taking time away from our home repair, when I'm out of work already. It's not about the money; as much as I'd love getting paid for what I'm doing with the project I wasn't motivated to join the group because I was desperate for funding. It's about helping out, feeling good, doing something to give to the community and improve the place where we all live and play. It's about providing a good role model for the kids, making my life an example of responsible living, and having fun with a group of people who are passionate about making the world a better place - one tomato at a time.
I could still use a job, but jobs rarely feed the soul. This experience will give me more than resume padding and new friends. It will give me peace, and that's something all of us need. Do you volunteer? Why, or why not?