Grace Houseal finds her calling through volunteering
For Grace Houseal, volunteering with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan opened up a world of possibility.
Houseal moved to Grand Rapids from Midland, Michigan to pursue a degree in English from Grand Valley State University in 2016. She landed a job at Brewery Vivant, and while participating in the brewery’s volunteer program enjoyed a day spent collecting native seeds at Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve with the Land Conservancy. She credits that experience with igniting a hunger for volunteering and a curiosity about conservation as a career path.
“It was mind blowing. All of these ideas were completely new to me, and I was so fascinated by it,” Houseal said.
Discovering a new career path
Inspired by working with the Land Conservancy, Houseal sought other volunteer opportunities in her community. Her search led her to the Wildlife Rehab Center.
“Starting at the rehab center completely changed how I was thinking about my life and what I wanted to do with it,” Houseal said.
While working with animals had always intrigued Houseal, she did not want to be a veterinarian. Volunteering at the Wildlife Rehab Center showed her another way to pursue this passion.
“I felt passionate, I felt interested, I felt motivated,” Houseal said. “I wanted to keep pursuing it, and I hadn’t felt at all like that in what I was doing before.”
Houseal switched from English studies to start on the Natural Resources Management track at Grand Valley. While she finishes her degree, she continues to engage in volunteering, which she says keeps her inspired.
“Volunteering has really become the most important thing in my life to me,” Houseal said.
Helping others to volunteer
Among a few other jobs, Houseal now works for City Built Brewing as its volunteer coordinator, a position she created. Her job is to connect the brewery’s employees with opportunities to do hands-on work in the community. She encourages her co-workers to take advantage of the fulfillment and serendipity that come with volunteering.
“I always say, ‘If you can give me one day to come out to an event, I promise you, you will feel something,’” Houseal said. “The range of things that you learn and see and get to experience in the world is just like—you can literally do anything!”
She said the positive experiences she’s had working at the Wildlife Rehab Center and with various nonprofits through City Built’s volunteer program help center her when the world feels heavy.
“You get this thing from natural resources management professors: ‘You can only do so much as one person, you have to just try to do your best as an individual,’” Houseal said. “You do feel that way. You get depressed and overwhelmed when you think about all of that and how do you turn your career into something meaningful for the world.”
Volunteering, and facilitating opportunities for others to volunteer, has been a great antidote for that feeling.
“For me, being the volunteer coordinator, this is how I make the biggest impact that I can. As one person, I have been able to turn my two hands into, you know, 140 hands. I have turned my individual impact into an impact on many people, and it’s exponential,” Houseal said.
Making lasting connections
More than anything, Houseal appreciates the relationships she has built through volunteering. Working alongside her co-workers and fellow community members to do good has made a lasting impression on her.
“I think the most important part of volunteering, and the most important feeling I get from it, is connectivity. It makes you feel like you are a part of the earth, the world, your family and also your community,” Houseal said. “It’s really kind of profound, and you don’t realize it until it’s happened.”
It all started with some small seeds in the prairie at Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve.
“I didn’t expect volunteering to change my life, but you never know what experience is going to hit you,” Houseal said. “The Land Conservancy was the starting point.”