In my previous post, I mentioned helping out with a project that a fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinator was involved with. He was part of a committee that was in charge of recruiting over 2000 volunteers to help rebuild a community playground that was destroyed by fire. The experience really changed how I thought about volunteers and how people thought of their communities.
I was assigned to work in the tool shed on the very first day of the build. There wasn’t any construction going on that first day, just a lot of site preparation. I was a little disappointed that I would be working in the tool shed because I had really wanted to work on building something. The next day I learned that I had one of the best—and hardest—jobs on the site. It was hard because everyone that needed a tool had to get it from the tool shed, and not everyone knew what they needed, so I was always busy. It was one of the best jobs because I got to talk to almost all of the people that volunteered.
Getting to talk to nearly all of the volunteers made a big impact on me. I got to find out everyone’s story about how they came to volunteer at the build, and how they thought about community. There were people who wanted to get out from behind their desks, people who had worked on the first playground, professional builders and demolition contractors, and hundreds of AmeriCorps members and Alums. It was a great experience getting to know complete strangers who were working for some idea of what is good—of how their world ought to be rather than simply accepting the reality of how their world is.
After working at the playground build for five days, I had to go to the job that I worked on the weekends. When I got to work, I found out that they didn’t need me that weekend, so I went back to work on the playground. When I got back, people were happy to see me because I knew how things were working in the tool shed, and because I knew how to fix some of the tools that had stopped working. It was the first time that I realized that I was valued not just as a volunteer, but as a volunteer with a specific skill set that was beneficial to the project I was working on.
Working on the playground was a great experience for me on multiple levels. It was the first time in years that I’d been able to work on building something instead of sitting behind a desk and planning something. The people I worked with changed how I thought about community. Before, I thought it was simply the place you lived. I learned that community is the place that you care about, and that you care about making better. I learned that volunteers are valuable, not only for the work that they do, but for all of the skills that they brought with them to an organization. It’s something that I always knew, but finally began to really understand. Working on the project made me realize that I wanted to keep working with volunteers. It’s a big part of why I signed up for a second year in AmeriCorps with Volunteer Maryland.