The Value of Making a Difference

So, What Did I Get? And What Am I Getting?

RoxAnna Theiss


RoxAnna at 3in1.croppedjpgIn the fall of 2011 I took my Master Naturalist Training.  There were 22 ish in the class and we spent nine weeks learning whatever could be crammed into nine weeks about the natural world and the conservation and preservation of Virginia’s natural resources.  I went through the coursework and came away from the class knowing much more about the natural world but very little about my classmates.  I did not engage.  I barely interacted.

Then for some totally unknown reason (although, now that I think about it – that take home assessment and my decision to focus on the Geology question which cost me several sleepless nights had something to do with it), when our Chapter Advisor sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers for positions in Chapter development, I felt the need to respond positively.  I honestly thought the Chair-ship of the Training Committee would be a cake-walk of sorts.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Talk about simpleminded!  It all seemed so very doable!

When it happened, I do not know.  But in the process of creating and implementing the curriculum, analyzing my training experience and how I thought we could go beyond that experience, pouring over the policy manual, forming the Training Committee and getting to know the other six souls who also raised their hands to make the Headwaters Chapter a real live entity, I went from disengaged to totally immersed.  And I mean totally!

Now, it’s almost three years later and what did I get?

I got a community.   Headwaters is fast becoming a community of like-minded people who care about and are willing to work toward the betterment of our region of the Shenandoah Valley.  We are becoming teams.  Our chapter is becoming a unit.  We are known and respected not only as a by-product of our association with the Virginia Master Naturalist Program but because we are making ourselves useful and exceeding the minimum at every turn.  And for me that means our community reaches beyond, well beyond any of the minimums set in policy.  When I learned that most chapters experience a 40% drop off after the training program was completed – I promised myself: not this chapter!  It has come to my attention that we are coming to be regarded as “promising” . . . a community that can make a difference.  With this understanding, I get a strong sense of pride to be associated with Headwaters.

I got a big self-respect boost.  It happened gradually.  I might make a “cold call” trying to recruit a speaker or a field trip leader and these people I called responded so positively and so immediately for the most part that I could not help but associate it with the VMN Program and its mission.  I was calling people who believed in the same work and mission.  It bolstered my determination and drive.

I got to know some awesome people.  My classmates, for instance, turned out to be real movers and shakers in the environmental and natural resource management world locally.  And now that they knew me, that original disengagement fell away.  The real magic occurred with the first Basic Training class I coordinated.  Talk about a special group of people!   They showed me what a difference a group can make when they team up to work together to “make something happen”.  That’s when I understood the key to avoiding the dreaded 40% rule: the development of a cohesive unit of people who care about the same thing can overcome obstacles and make their own destiny.

I got to learn more than I ever expected.  I get free Advanced Training.  I get to meet and converse with our speakers and field trip leaders.  I get to provide others the same opportunity and see all their light bulbs going off and the joy of learning and giving back in their faces as they make connections and increase their understanding beyond their expectations.  I get to see the trainees turn into movers and shakers in the chapter and loving the work.  I get to help.  I got to grow.  I get to make a difference.

But all this did not come free.  Because you get back only what you are willing to invest, I came to understand that for Headwaters to be the best it could be we would need more resources than the training fee and more than volunteer time for approved projects.  We would need more than tangible resource investment; we would need both an instrumental and intrinsic value philosophy.  We would need to understand that although the main purpose of the VMN Program and its Chapters is to be instrumental in the preservation and conservation of Virginia’s Natural Resources there is also an intrinsic value to be discovered.  The experience of Headwaters is more than a means to an end.  It has value in and of itself.

Even though all the feedback I get tells me the trainees and the chapter gets a big bang for their training fee buck and Virginia gets an extraordinary corps of volunteers for her natural resources – I understand that to move forward and to build a strong and lasting foundation allowing us to multiply our effect many fold – we need more than the minimum of both time on natural resource management and more than money from the training fee or any other source.  Attitude can be as valuable a resource as either of these more tangible constructs.  The resources of time and money from people who care spread evenly and fairly across the whole membership, help us build a chapter that can be far more than the sum of its parts.  The resource of attitude broadens the value of making a difference and helps make us immune to the deadly 40% rule.

So what have I gotten, and what do I continue to get?   As if all the above were not enough, I have gotten and continue to get a better me, a better Shenandoah Valley, a better Virginia, a better America and a better world.  Pretty good deal, to my way of thinking!

piggy_bankd4517aThanks to RoxAnna for this contribution to our chapter discussion about the need for membership dues! More about this here.