Our Family's Volunteer Project At Camp Yavapines
Before we left home last June we spent a lot time determining what the goals of our trip would be. What did we want to accomplish? Learn? How could we change? Be better people? How did we want to grow from this opportunity? Every time we brought the topic up, we quickly realized there was a common want or need. We wanted to help. In a very broad way, we simply wanted to help people, the earth, animals. We didn’t care! We were open so long as it was a fit for our whole family. We knew from the get-go that we would be incorporating random acts of kindness as a daily goal but I wanted to take it a step further. I kept coming back to the idea of volunteering.
After months and months of trying to find the perfect volunteer opportunity, we finally hit a wall. We tried contacting running races, habitat for humanity, campground hosts, workaways, and permaculture farms. We shared our story to everyone we contacted but none of them ended up being a fit. We were feeling discouraged and we were running out of time. There had to be something out there that could work for our young family. The boys had really taken to our random acts so I just knew they would excel if someone would give us the chance.
Rewind to Camping in LA PAZ, BAJA In February
In February, one of the stops we made in Baja was a campground called Campestre Maranatha in La Paz. We initially wanted to stay one night but the following morning we woke up to a light drizzle on Spud’s roof. We were still traveling with four fellow vans and made a unanimous decision over oatmeal and coffee that we would all stay another day. The campground was so lovely that one day actually turned in to three. It was one of the best campgrounds we had stayed at with a pool, a huge playground, a thatched roof with picnic tables, decent WiFi, and some of the best showers in all of Baja. But the icing on the cake was the volunteer group that was there that week.
CUE OUR SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES
Reid and Bennett were off on their own with their dump trucks when all of a sudden I heard the trucks come to a halt. At that point they began striking up a conversation with someone. I couldn’t see them, but I listened from afar. They asked the famous toddler question... “Excuse me, what are you doing?” But then without letting anyone answer they kept going like a walking run-on-sentence. “Is that a paintbrush?” "Why are you painting that wall? ”Are going to paint this whole house?” Finally, one of the women politely interrupted and started to explain. She said things like 'we are painting the buildings so they look nice. And fixing the campground so that groups and families can enjoy them this year.' By now, minutes had passed so I decided I’d finally show my face so they didn’t think the boys were motherless.
Over the course of a couple days we learned more about their story and what they do. That there are projects that open up yearly (some new, some the same) and they either sign up for a new one or keep coming back to the old. They’ve built churches and started youth ministries in towns, they’ve fixed old buildings, worked on bathrooms, kitchens, landscaping and cabins at camps/retreat centers like the one in La Paz. You name it, it has likely been done. One woman who we really grew fond of even brought us daily crafts for the boys to do. These people had the biggest hearts and I grew envious that they were fulfilling what they set out to do. It was then that I shared with the woman our story about us traveling for a year. I get to the part about volunteering. I am sure she could tell I was disappointed we weren’t having any luck finding a project. But at that moment her face lit up and she suggested jumping on their website to see what projects were available this year. She assured me there were family-friendly ones. I literally pulled out my computer, sat down at the picnic tables, and began searching at that instant. She was right! There were half a dozen or so opportunities available in the US and a few elsewhere in the world. Some specific to families even. Now I just needed to find one that lined up with our March or April availability. Luckily, that same day I found one and filled out the registration forms for all four of us. I was so thrilled I hardly had time to tell Chip about it.
FAST FORWARD TO APRIL
We pulled into Prescott, Arizona looking forward to meeting our new friends for the next ten days. We would be calling a cute cabin with a queen and a couple trundle beds at Camp Yavapines home. There would be 60+ people volunteering along with us. The first day we set up our cabins, met people, learned about the different projects, and ate the most delicious food all prepared by, you guessed it, more volunteers! Camp Yavapines holds various retreats throughout the year, and hosts several youth camps in the summer. They have numerous cabins onsite some complete with kitchens, a campground, large dining hall, a playground, stable with horses, an outdoor amphitheater, a huge pool, and bathroom facilities all throughout the grounds. This place was impressive! Camp Yavapines has general workers throughout the year but the most important construction and landscaping projects of the whole year are completed during this 10 day volunteer event.
An Unexpected Call
That first night we received an unexpected call from Chip’s dad. His grandmother, Margaret, had passed away after her birthday dinner with family. As you can imagine we were saddened to hear the news. We informed our leader at Yavapines and began working on arrangements to get home to Ohio to be with family.
Fortunately, we were still able to help quite a bit at Yavapines that first week and decided to take a flight home on Friday. During the week Chip worked on two projects: shower stalls and helping with a complete renovation of the pool. He got pulled to the pool after the first day since it was such a huge undertaking.
Yavapines ended up being the perfect fit for the boys and I. By the end of the first morning they had helped Carol Ann with morning worship, washed all the dining room tables after breakfast, and picked up one large garbage bag of trash. We celebrated by playing at the playground and taking an afternoon siesta. The rest of the week they fed the horses at the stables with Rose, laid brick at the pool, delivered water to our fellow volunteers, wiped tables clean after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and continued to pick up trash throughout the grounds. One day I took on dish cleaning duty and ran the industrial dishwasher. At the end of each day we felt we were making a difference and could see the projects progressing and transforming. It felt like that is exactly where we needed to be.
Thankful for This 'Pause'
All in all I'm extremely grateful for the rewarding experience of volunteering as a family. Not only do I want my children to grow up being kind to others, but I want them to know that serving and volunteering can feel just as good to them as it does to the person on the receiving end. I was able to see the transformation of all three of the boys as they became more proud of the work they were doing as the week went on. Naturally it made me feel proud inside.
If it weren't for this 'pause' that we are on I'll admit I would not have pushed myself to research or dedicate time to volunteering for a project such as this. But because we have, and because it was so enriching for our family, we are now making it a yearly goal for us. And who knows, maybe you'll find us back at Yavapines next year where we will hopefully be able to finish out the full ten days with the rest of that hardworking group!
Number of Volunteers at Yavapines: 60
Location of Volunteer Event: Prescott, AZ
Youngest Volunteer: 6 month old baby (!) but the jibs came in 2nd at 4 years old
The Food Was: all free (three meals a day), all vegetarian, and ALL AMAZING!