This has been my third (and likely final) volunteer trip through the Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement. For me, these trips have served a dual purpose: meeting new people, and gaining a tangible understanding of the active issues inhabiting my field. As a biology major, I’ve purposely sought out volunteer trips that are environmentally-oriented. These trips typically involve work through a national park or sanctuary. I’ve pulled invasive species of plants, collected litter from beaches, planted rare and endangered trees, trimmed overgrowth along walking trails, and hiked and climbed.
After talking to the people who are immersed in these problems – the directors of sanctuaries, the biological managers of nature preserves, the local volunteers, et cetera – a clear pattern has emerged. The same type of help is needed everywhere, because people cause the same problems everywhere that they live. We introduce species that we think will be helpful in an area (this never turns out to be the case), and we pollute, and we encroach on the things that had always belonged there.
What I think is so lovely about alternative break trips is that we have the chance to be exposed to these very real situations, and we can meet the people who are currently fighting the good fight.
I had a moment talking with one of them during my most recent trip to Valmeyer, Illinois, and she told me that most people only get two chances throughout their lives to volunteer: when we’re the up-and-coming, young adults that we are now, and later on in life, when our children have left the nest.
I’m grateful that I could go on this trip, and I’m excited for what I can accomplish in the future.