I love autumn. It’s one of my favorite seasons of the year; just warm enough still to enjoy the outdoors, cool enough to start having an excuse to enjoy hot chocolate. But most importantly, fall means apples! I grew up on a family-run orchard, and every year I look forward to a new season of apples. The orchard is pretty small as far as commercial apple farms go, but it’s just big enough to be plenty of work for my family. And as much as I love apple-picking, it’s more than a few hands can handle. One of the only things that allows us to get all the work done is our volunteers.
Whether they volunteered themselves or we volunteered them, almost every weekend we are joined at our farm by friends and family donating their time. The only tangible reward for them is all the fruit they can carry off (but trust me, we still get a deal), and sometimes I wonder what could possible motivate them to come out and spend hours working for free.
What our friends and family tells us is that they feel good about their work with us. They see us all excited about growing fruit, and they want to share in that excitement. They love the hands-on aspect and the sense of accomplishment that comes at the end of the day when they can see all that they have helped get done. This is so worthwhile to them that they will come back time and again to help us.
But it’s also about the relationships. At first our friends and family might just be doing it as a favor, but as time goes on they get invested. They have the desire to see our farm succeed as much as we do. They see themselves as being a part of what we do, and they really are. That’s the beauty of volunteering in action. Whatever gets a person started volunteering, passion for the cause is what keeps them going.
Kerry and I will be here to support all the new Volunteer Maryland Coordinators as we all start our service year, and as the VMCs develop their volunteer programs I can’t wait to see the rewarding results of a strong relationship between the volunteers and the program. My advice would be to find what makes you passionate about your work and find a way to light that fire in your volunteers, even if it’s something as simple as apples.