It’s good to get your hands dirty

Crop artist Stan Herd plants marigolds and pansies that are part of a 100-by-50-foot artwork at Pendleton’s Country market near Lawrence, Kansas.(COURTESY PHOTO MCT CAMPUS)

P>BY M. M. DONALDSON | Voice Correspondent

Ever consider that getting your hands dirty is good not only for you, but your community as well?

Take it from the Botanical Garden of North Carolina, which on its website says: “benefits of horticultural therapy include physical activity, relaxation and enjoyment, skill development, creative expression, sensory stimulation, intellectual and personal growth, social interaction, a sense of productivity and self-satisfaction and a spiritual connection with life.”


For more information on volunteering, volunteer orientations and volunteer applications:

Botanical Gardens,

The Farm at St Joe’s,

Growing Hope,

But you can find out for yourself by volunteering with a variety of local venues – where dirt under the fingernails is a sign of philanthropy – and experience the therapeutic benefits of working with the soil and plants.

Spending time handling a heavy humus soil, tending to a tender tomato transplant, or even enjoying the fragrance of pruning back a Russian sage bush, are simple rewards a volunteer may encounter. Those who volunteer know the intrinsic value of their time given, but others may shy away from volunteering because they do not realize the benefit to themselves.

“Volunteering builds skills and gives a track record to put on resumes,” said Michelle Machiele, a Washtenaw Community College adviser with Career Services.

There are no volunteer requirements for obtaining an associate degree or certificate at WCC, but she suggests students keep their eyes out for volunteer fairs and look at the employment resources page on the college’s website.

“There are opportunities to grow as leaders, elected or willingly,” Machiele continued. “Not everyone can be voted club president, but there are opportunities to organize events and take responsibilities such as organizing volunteers and writing media releases. Employers are looking for passionate people who are responsible.”

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum boast more than 800 acres of nature where volunteers can dig in the dirt. Between 300-400 people volunteer regularly each year at Matthaei, with more than 1,000 others volunteering for special events. Many schools, corporations, and various community and interdepartmental groups donate their time.

Tara Griffith, volunteer coordinator at Matthaei Botanical Gardens who has been employed with there for six years, explains why people choose to volunteer at Matthaei.

“The No. 1 thing I hear is the ongoing learning,” Griffith said. “It’s like one big classroom. You don’t have to be highly skilled to volunteer. You learn by doing; it’s very hands on.”

Volunteers are able to take advantage of the expert knowledge the staff provides. Other perks include seeing what it is like behind the scenes and have access to things regular visitors ordinarily would not see. Those who come regularly have built great friendships with fellow volunteers.

“Service-learning projects for WCC students are a great way to build resumes,” Griffith explains. “It’s done in a university setting, it is a huge benefit and accessible to all students in the community.”

The Farm at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital employs Dan Bair as the only paid staff, leaving a lot of responsibilities and weeds for him. Throughout the summer, individuals to community and civic groups call to volunteer their time. There are also student interns participating in the public health department community rotation from the Dietetic Program through the University of Michigan.

Volunteers can work on nutrition education, administration details or special projects. And lots of weeding. Students from Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Central Michigan universities have volunteered time, and Bair welcomes WCC students, staff and faculty to volunteer with the Farm, just across the street from the main college campus.

Another community program in the area, Growing Hope, advertises on its volunteer information page opportunities to get dirty or stay clean.

“At Growing Hope, our main focus is to increase healthy food access,” Arika Lycan, outreach manager, said. “For some, that could mean growing their own food in a backyard garden.”

Teaching community members how to garden requires volunteer time and effort for its success. Machiele feels her own volunteer service gives her new perspective and a break from her work at WCC and gives her something to look forward to.

“There’s a chance to try out new skills,” Machiele said. “There’s less pressure, and it’s more supportive.”

The opportunities for networking while volunteering is valuable, despite social media networking spots such as LinkedIn and Facebook, Machiele explains, but it is the face-to-face interactions that are the most effective connections for individuals to get jobs.

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