Finding health and fulfillment in volunteering

Finding health and fulfillment in volunteering

After retiring from a career in social work, Caroline Clark found she had time to explore new opportunities. One avenue that sparked her interest was becoming a master naturalist through Michigan State University Extension. The program requires prospective naturalists to complete a certain amount of volunteer hours. Caroline found the Land Conservancy’s regular Second Saturday workdays to be a perfect way to fill the requirement.

“I kind of attached myself to the Land Conservancy,” Caroline said.

Caroline eventually achieved her master naturalist certification, but she never stopped coming to Second Saturday Workdays. She’s been volunteering with the Land Conservancy regularly since 2015. She said that volunteering is not unlike social work: making a difference for the environment, just like making a difference in someone’s life, is personally fulfilling for her.

“You find out that it’s so rewarding to be out there doing this type of work,” Caroline said. “You get so much benefit from being outdoors, and it’s a great way to do something productive and feel good about leaving a little bit of a mark.”

Caroline grew up in Santiago, Chile. A self-described “city girl,” she developed a taste for nature on camping trips with her family. When she moved to West Michigan, she found it was much easier to connect with the outdoors, and opportunities to hike and explore were always within reach. As she learned about climate change and other threats to nature, it became important to her to be a part of protecting it. Volunteering provided her a chance to do just that.

“I thought, ‘OK, this is a place where I can give a little bit,’” Caroline said.

She learned that participating in Second Saturday workdays provided her with much more than a sense of accomplishment—she noticed the impact that being outdoors and building relationships with fellow volunteers had on her health.

“You actually feel better when you are out in nature,” Caroline said. “There are times when I have felt down or really troubled, and going out for a hike always has been fantastic.”

Caroline has struggled with cancer, and her health has limited the physical exercise she can get. Volunteer stewardship work has proven to provide just the right level of intensity and fresh air to make her feel good.

“It’s not heavy duty work, but you’re active, you’re moving around, you’re doing things. It’s really fun, and you feel like you’ve really accomplished something that morning,” Caroline said.

The social component of the workdays is a plus, Caroline said.

“You also meet other people, and you find some commonalities. It’s really nice to be able to do that—it doesn’t feel like you’re just there with a bunch of people doing something. There’s some camaraderie.”

It’s these benefits that have kept Caroline returning to Second Saturday workdays.

“This is another way for me to feel like I’m taking care of myself,” Caroline said. “I love the work. I look forward to it. As long as I can do it, I want to do it.”

This story appeared in our spring 2020 newsletter. You can read the newsletter in its entirety here.

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