By Leah Campbell, SNAP Member at Sierra Streams Institute
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never previously participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. My university always helped sponsor and match students with volunteer opportunities across the city. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the importance of service or the need for it in a city like New Haven. Being the child of an American historian, I also grew up with a reverence for Martin Luther King and his legacy. But, the truth was that I always looked at that day very much as a ‘day off’ and not a ‘day on’ as was intended. It was my last free day to sleep in, catch up with friends, and get a head start on work before the craziness of the semester set in. To be honest, if I wasn’t currently in AmeriCorps, I probably would have approached this MILK Day with the same attitude.
But, because I am currently serving, I set out to find a good volunteer opportunity to participate in for MLK Day. I helped organize a community restoration event with the two other AmeriCorps members at my site, but I decided not to actually participate. I imagined that pulling invasive weeds at one of Sierra Streams’ restoration sites would simply have felt like another day in the office and I knew I’d have plenty more opportunities in the spring to do just that. I wanted to try something different. Maybe it would be something that I could get involved with in the longer term or maybe it would just be something that would allow me to engage with a different segment of the community. Nevada City has no shortage of environmental nonprofits and the people who consistently volunteer with organizations like SYRCL and Sierra Streams never fail to amaze me. But, the town also has so many other nonprofits supported be an army of volunteers, and, unfortunately, it seems that these volunteers don’t often overlap with those I tend to get at Sierra Streams.
This train of thinking is what brought me to Animal Save. Animal Save is a nonprofit, based in Grass Valley, that provides a variety of animal services. They have a humane education department that teaches school children about caring for animals, a thrift and bookstore that support their operations, a low cost surgical clinic, and pet adoption services. They rescue animals slated to be put down from the animal shelter and place the dogs in foster homes and keep cats on site until they can be adopted into permanent homes. What is most incredible is that this entire operation is run almost entirely by volunteers. With the exception of a few paid staff members, Animal Save relies solely on volunteers to keep their stores running and save as many animals as they can. My family recently got a rescue dog through a similar organization and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me.
I spent the entire day at Animal Save bouncing from building to building helping out wherever they needed me. I helped organize books at the bookstore, sort and price donations at the thrift store, comfort dogs coming from the surgical clinic, and clean cat cages in the pet adoption area. The work was fun of course, but the best part was meeting the variety of volunteers who make the work of Animal Save possible. It was mostly older, retired women, who have dedicated multiple days a week to this organization for years. Most of them were only scheduled to come in for a few hours, but ended up staying most of the day. And they were all incredible passionate about helping and caring for animals. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to get most of these women to volunteer for Sierra Streams, but it was quite an honor to spend the day with them and really learn about what service means to them and why they keep coming back. Between the film festival and MLK Day, I was on my feet all day for about two days straight and I could certainly feel that once I got home from Animal Save. But even so, it was my best MLK Day so far!