Some might say I was raised in a barn. And in many ways they’re right, but not because of my manners. Six months out of college, I traded heals for boots to manage the barn at Camelot, a North Scottsdale therapeutic riding center that teaches horsemanship to children and adults who have disabilities. I held many titles during the 14 years I worked there, but two remained consistent: riding instructor and volunteer coordinator. During that time, I learned invaluable life lessons from the diverse team who gave their time freely so we could offer services at no cost. They are the ones who helped shape who I am today.
Mind Over Matter
The retirees who toiled in the garden and cleaned the barn inspired me. Age is truly mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. They shoveled it, dumped it and bedded stalls with the best of them. They also taught me that it’s never too late to pick-up a new skill, as some began their journey at Camelot with little more than a trail ride under their belt.
The Zen of Poo
Whether the project is stuffing envelopes or cleaning water buckets, hard work is rewarding and at times cathartic. And knowing that you don’t need to do it, but choose to do it for the betterment of someone else is the icing on the cake. One volunteer ranch hand said she experienced the Zen of poo every time she volunteered. No, she wasn’t referring to Whinny the Poo, yet she truly found peace and healing in the work.
Giving is Getting
During my first year at Camelot, I quickly bonded with the volunteer team and felt indebted to them for working alongside me as I learned the ropes. That spring, we hosted an end of season VIP (Volunteers are Important People) brunch to thank everyone for their service. After everyone had a plate of food, I asked them to share their most memorable moment of the year. Little did I know that they would teach me a lesson I would carry with me forever.
The first person to stand didn’t share a memory, but thanked me for the opportunity to volunteer. Each person thereafter thanked me as well. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, and to be honest, a little baffled. They gave their time, worked hard and asked for nothing in return; yet they thanked me for the opportunity.
After some reflection, their kind words took on a new light. Year two at Camelot, my mentor told me that people want and need an opportunity to give, and it was my responsibility to provide it to them. I learned that in return for one’s service, their cup is filled in personal ways. Perhaps it’s filled with joy from helping others and new friendships made in the barn, or with horses and the beauty of the desert, or with the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. It’s a little different for everyone.
I challenge you to find your passion and volunteer for a nonprofit organization worthy of your time. Your cup will be filled with something surprising, while making a difference in the life of another. This is your opportunity to give.