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Fall Day of Caring: A volunteer’s perspective

United Way for Greater Austin and the Austin-American Statesman

Some might think that going out to work in a garden the day after torrential rains would be a not-so great idea. How much mud are you going to encounter? Will the flower beds and vegetable patches be flooded? Will it be gross? Those are some of the questions that might come up.

It had rained pretty hard the night before the Austin American-Statesman volunteers were scheduled to volunteer in the JJ Pickle Elementary School garden. Because of this, we showed up in rain boots and rain coats, hats and hooded jackets. By the time we arrived at the school, there were menacing clouds gathering again in the sky, but these provided a great cover for us as we gathered our tools and listened to the instructions for the day.

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Our volunteer leader, Judith Hutchinson, greeted us with coffee and donuts. She was happy to see that we arrived in a school bus—very appropriate for our volunteering location. We huddled in front of the bus for a picture, and then we were off to the gardens. Judith showed us where all the tools were and gave us plenty of options of where to start and what to improve.

There was more than enough enthusiasm to go around. Plenty of fresh green weeds to pull from the raised vegetable beds, and soft, crumbly dirt to turn over with a shovel. We emptied a pond in order to make room for fresh water, trimmed flower bushes and made sure the sprouting vegetables had plenty of room to grow. We had several gardens to choose from, so we went from one to the other until all the tasks were done. The humidity was intense, but no one seemed to notice it between the jokes, laughs and smiles.

The best thing about helping out at JJ Pickle was the opportunity to see the children going about their day. There were some outside, enjoying their time on the playground. Others were inside, listening to their teachers and scribbling in their notebooks. Glancing into their classrooms, we all remembered what it was like when school made up most of your world. It reminded us of who were doing this for. We weren’t just helping a garden grow, we were helping minds grow in a fresh and fertile environment.

By the time we were done, the first rain drops started to fall. The rain felt refreshing as we headed back to the bus. We made sure to take a few more pictures and thank Judith for letting us pitch in. As we walked away, we all looked back at the garden and felt proud of our work. It was a great day at JJ Pickle Elementary.

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Ximena Estrada is the Marketing Manager in the Consumer and Community Development Department at the Austin American-Statesman. The AAS Consumer and Community Development Department fulfills the company’s daily commitment by conducting its signature programs, which focus on education, literacy, health and wellness; providing support for community programs; making significant corporate and employee contributions; and participating in local volunteer work.

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