A few Sundays ago I was approached by a young girl who wanted to do a science fair project. She thought maybe she could test the water in the creak near her house. She was going to look at the water under a microscope and compare what she saw to tap water. I suggested a few refinements, including expanding her testing beyond critters in the water to some water chemistry, like temperature and pH, and observing the biological and physical environment of the creek.
In that moment, I saw a future creek monitor. I imagined this energetic girl, who had already had success raising money to purchase and preserve 8 acres of wildlands near her house, as the leader of a cadre of young volunteers, keeping track of the health of the forest and streams above her neighborhood.
I imagined her in a life of volunteerism. I volunteered as a young girl, too, doing good, taking care of my world. And maybe that is why I am an optimist and lifelong volunteer who works to make things better. Volunteering reverses the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that plague us as we grow from youth to adulthood. It gives people a sense that they make their own communities. Volunteers are no longer passive receivers of the “government” but citizens. In this way, we make our communities whole. In this way, we keep our governments honest. In this way, we chose our future.