Nancy L.C. Steele

December 2021

I joined the Girl Scouts as a Brownie and continued with scouting through earning my Gold Award. I participated in many service projects, which are core to the Girl Scout way. I remember one weekend cleaning up a vacant lot in Phoenix. I remember packing up goodies for “shut ins” for holidays. I remember singing at nursing homes at Christmas time. There were so many service projects throughout the years that I can’t count them all. Have you had that experience?

Service seeped into my bones. It became such a part of my psyche that for most of my life I have worked either in government or the nonprofit sector. Earning a lot of money has never been my goal. 

My personal mission statement, you could say, is to leave the world a little better than I entered it, with a specific focus on improving human health and environmental quality. Even more specifically, my passion is conservation of land and waters. What is your personal passion?

Now, what I hear from many of you is that you search for meaning through volunteerism. For those who are still working, you look for weekend experiences that express your personal values in ways that you can’t in your day job. You bring your children, for some family time and to teach them about doing good. You love cleaning up, pulling weeds, building trails, and healing human-caused scars on the land. 

For retirees, you might be finally expressing your true self after years of being a cog in a large machine, earning money for corporations. I sometimes hear from people who have a lifetime of working in service careers who just can’t stop being of service. Now they work for free because they can’t conceive of not working for good. 

According to the United Nations, over 1 billion people volunteer around the world, generating well-being for people and communities. The UN says “volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and feel that they matter to others.” Without volunteers, our world would be the poorer.

This message is especially resonant this time of the year. The winter holidays, Christmas included, involve giving. While today that spirit of giving is most often expressed in consumerism and overindulgence, it isn’t always so. I have faith that it is not just our tax laws that cause many of you to make your largest charitable gifts in December. This is a time to take stock of all that we have and give some of it away. We express our values through how we spend what we have.

Maya Angelou, the poet, said “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” Time and again, research has found that people who give to charitable organizations express higher levels of satisfaction with their lives. Giving is good.

As we pass the winter solstice and days begin to lengthen, we know in our bones that even in the depths of winter, spring is on its way. I think it is at least partly because of that sense of hope and renewal that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January has become a day of service.  After the indulgences of December, it’s time to get out and give back. 

This January, Friends of the Verde River is giving you even more opportunities to get outside and give back on MLK Day, January 17th. Whether you live in Sedona or Camp Verde, whether you want to be outside with a group or go it on your own, Friends of the Verde River has a river stewardship activity for you. 

Do you love Dead Horse Ranch State Park? You can help out with beautification and trail improvement projects. Is playing on the river your passion? Friends may have a project to improve the Tuzi River Access Point in Clarkdale. Do you live in the Camp Verde area? We have two projects for habitat restoration and river cleanup. And for Sedonans, we are partnering with Oak Creek Watershed Council on a clean-up in the Dry Creek area. 

The best way for you to ensure you can find a volunteer activity to match your interests is to go online and sign up at verderiver.org. If you sign up for our newsletter and as a volunteer, you will get updates and directions. And you’ll have access to an entire year of opportunities to express your passions, giving back to the Verde River.

Whatever holidays you celebrate this season, may it be a blessed one. My wish for you is for some peace on earth. I’ll see you in the new year. 

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