guest post by Jordan Norton, an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga University
For most of my term as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I have been preparing and serving meals at Pioneer Victory House, which provides housing to veterans dealing with chemical dependency, mental health issues and criminal histories. Every Monday I have been able to go and serve the residents and spend time talking with and listening to them. What I have found is that these veterans are some of the most respectful and gracious guys I have been able to work with.
Part of my responsibility as an AmeriCorps volunteer is to not only serve but engage veterans in service. I aim to build veterans’ connections in their community and build a sense of belonging and purpose in these men and women that they may not have otherwise been able to feel.
On a recent sunny Saturday, I brought the veterans in to help clean up our community garden. I had covered the individual beds with straw after allowing a cover crop of clover and rye to grow, and as spring creeps into Spokane, it was finally time to uncover the beds and let them breathe.
I had preconceptions about the challenges of getting everyone signed up and ready to work, but it seems that lately the things I most dread turn out to be the easiest. As soon as my veteran volunteers arrived, they wanted to get right to work. As some of the guys finished removing the straw from the beds, others came through with shovels to turn the beds over and ensure that any leftover straw or cover crop seed would be incorporated into the soil. The men who cleaned the shed left no spot undone. It was cleared of dust and debris, the shelves were realigned and wired so that we wouldn’t have problems with them coming apart in the future, and it was reorganized making it so much easier to find everything.
Our task became a community effort as we all talked and laughed and worked. Our backgrounds, as varied as they were, disappeared in the midst of mutual respect and an understanding that the work we did was for something greater than ourselves.
The experience brought me a little closer with these guys I’ve been serving for several months now, and it was so nice to be able to work alongside of them and be able to share the experience. I have always found gardening to be a therapeutic activity, and gardening with the goal of feeding those less fortunate brings in that much more value to the experience.