I don’t volunteer. Well, except for our local ArtFest, and that’s largely because the entire town gets involved with that. It’s not that I won’t show up when called, and I’m more than happy to help a neighbor in need, but I’m just not someone you’ll find distributing blankets at the local homeless shelter. Perhaps that makes me a bad person. Perhaps not.
Yet there I was, standing in the parking lot of the local middle school, waiting for the intern to arrive. We had an appointment to look at the student gardens. She had drawn up a plan for irrigation using low pressure lines, drippers, and rain barrels. These are all things I’d dealt with before in my yard and in my garden, so I was somehow deemed qualified to provide advice to the students on how to water their garden. When I asked THE LADY NEXT DOOR why she thought I should talk to the intern, she said “Well, you seem to know more about this than I do.”
Hmm. She had a point there, but that didn’t make me feel qualified or anything. Still, I had the intern send me her proposal for the garden irrigation plan and I looked it over. I saw some good things and I saw some mistakes, so I gently provided feedback. I may not be a garden expert, but I’ve reviewed a few proposals in my time and I could definitely provide feedback on something like that.
I was worried that I needed to be an expert. I was worried that I needed all of the answers. Then the intern got out of the SUV her mother was driving and I realized that this was a 15 year old girl who just needed some advice about how to water a garden with rain barrels. She had all of the experience of a middle schooler, not some expert. She didn’t need someone to try to prove her right or wrong. She needed help with basic concepts like “If you’re going to rely on the rain barrel and gravity to water this bed, the rain barrel needs to be higher than the bed or it won’t work.”
We walked the gardens for about 30 minutes and she toured me about. The setup is really quite magnificent for a middle school. The students and volunteers are doing great work with the land. We talked about basic things like the height of the barrels and the length and size of the hoses they might use. One discussion centered around why a 3/4″ hose with holes in it probably wouldn’t deliver water to a bed 50 feet away, but a small low pressure hose with drippers might. I suggested that she test the hose sizes and lengths and perhaps create a color-coded chart to show the performance differences. That’s the kind of thing you can learn from, but you can also use it to get extra credit in classes. We also talked about how to bury clay pots and use them as cisterns and how she might want to integrate that into her plans. Then she showed me beds where they were raising plants from seed using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. It was something I’d never seen before and I was truly excited about using that technique at home.
A half hour flew by and she asked if she could send me her updated plan to review once it was done. I said “Of course! Please do!” And I asked her to keep me apprised of how things were progressing. I also offered to come back again if she needed more help.
Did I just volunteer for something and enjoy it?
The garden experience got me thinking about mentoring. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some really good mentors throughout my career, and some of them have come from unlikely sources. As I considered my time with the intern it occurred to me that I truly enjoyed giving advice and helping her figure out some of her problems. And then I caught myself doing the same thing a few days later in a discussion with THE NEIGHBOR’s daughter. We were deep into a discussion about how she was addressing certain issues at work and I found myself saying “well… you might want to try phrasing that a little more like this….”
I think I’d like to be a mentor for someone. I mean, it’s not like I’m brilliant or anything, but I have experience. And sometimes sharing that experience is all it takes. Maybe I don’t dislike volunteering. Maybe I just need to find the right kind of thing.