Have you ever volunteered your time to support a meaningful cause? Whether it’s donating your time to help clean litter from a park, serve food to the hungry, or collect toys for children without them, serving a mission that is good for society can give you a sense of fulfillment or purpose.
People volunteer for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have to (e.g., required community service hours). Some volunteer because they genuinely care about a mission or cause and feel compelled to devote their time to it. Others may volunteer because they have (or choose to have) the time and recognize the value of “giving back” to society in a constructive way.
I fall into the latter bucket of volunteers, and I could not be happier to dedicate my time in a year of service with the mission of strengthening organizations that work to alleviate poverty in the United States.
What am I? I am an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), and my organization is the Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) network of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The AmeriCorps VISTA program is the result of a vision held by the late former President John F. Kennedy (JKF). JFK wanted to create a domestic version of the Peace Corps to assist Americans afflicted by poverty. With the leadership of late former president Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), JFK’s vision became reality in 1964. The inaugural class of volunteers was a mere 24 people, and the VISTA member network has grown since then to more than 220,000 VISTAs across the United States.
In LBJ’s welcome address to the first VISTAs, he said: “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort, and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.”
Well, serving as a VISTA is indeed rewarding and fulfilling. VISTA gives me an opportunity to build an honorable public service portfolio while still contributing to environmental sustainability at the same time. And, in return I am giving the VISTA program/Texas Children in Nature network my capacity, knowledge and skills to help millions of little Texans get connected with nature. My VISTA term is also part of a personal journey—one that I am making during a career transition.
Nature is a component of healthy childhood development, and all children deserve to have nature access. Providing all children with equitable access to nature helps improve livelihoods and access to healthy diets; and children that are regularly exposed to nature are more likely to be happier, healthier and perform better in school. What’s more, children that build a relationship with nature today are more inclined to care for the natural world and become our future conservation leaders. TCiN’s mission directly propagates these understandings.
Many years ago, I decided to dedicate my future to working towards environmental sustainability, whatever that ended up looking like. I wanted to become a TCiN VISTA specifically because I believe in the importance of its mission, and I believe we need to connect our children with nature and get them to care about the natural world more than ever.