Volunteer. Does the word itself make you tired or cringe? Are you an overcommitted volunteer? Or do you simply say no?
Township to county commissions, city to church councils and hospital, park, school or county weed boards, the list of opportunities and needs vary across sparsely populated areas. Yes, urban areas have volunteer needs as well, but they can pull from a larger pool of people.
My husband and I both returned to rural America in our late 20s and early 30s, energized to make a positive difference in our corner of rural America. From local to state and national causes, we raised our hand to volunteer.
We didn’t “do it all.” We sacrificed to be volunteers, sometimes too much. We hit a wall, spread ourselves too thin and realized we needed to scale back to serve in a more focused manner.
We did not quit volunteering. We simply stepped away from existing roles, didn’t seek re-election or volunteer to take on another term. Our change in thinking allowed new people to take a turn on a board or volunteer for an organization.
Today, we volunteer with intention and value in mind, rather than saying “yes” to numerous roles, while juggling full-time jobs and family commitments.
Recently a memory popped up on social media that reminded me it had been one year since my term ended on a small-town city council. I mentioned to my husband I wished we would not have done so many different community roles and rather focused on fewer, more intentional opportunities.
After 20 years of volunteering, my husband, Nathan, and I created a list of what we would say to our younger selves about volunteering:
- Take a turn and volunteer in a civic or community role or on a board.
- Be open to new ideas that are not originally yours.
- Collaborate. We do not only need “yes” votes. We do not need unanimous votes.
- Don’t have hard feelings toward those who vote differently. (This is a BIG statement we should all ponder and reflect on in our various roles.)
- Combine ideas to create a better process, event, organization and future.
- Don’t let people push you around — it is acceptable to stand alone on an issue.
- Show up and support other volunteers in your community and their causes. Reach out, listen, send a note or make a phone call.
- Stay loyal to your moral compass and values.
- Do not sacrifice too much of your family time or quality of life to be a volunteer.
- Accept new people.
- Use your experience to bring value and benefit to your fellow board members, community and organization.
- Fight off the tendency or belief “we’ve always done it this way before” is best.
- Leave room in your mind for growth or new ideas.
These learned practices or guidelines for volunteers are a work in progress — one that I probably would have written differently in past decades and might chuckle at in the future.
Find your lane as a volunteer. Establish your own guidelines. There is a role and need for you in your neighborhood, community and county — whether it’s rural or urban. Local roles and organizations need you. If you feel called, serve in state or national roles. Follow your passions. Use your expertise. You’re not too young, too old, too much or too little of anything to not serve. Rural America is in need of people and new ideas to build our futures.
Take a turn. Volunteer.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.