by Rick Hoos
“The mission of the Williamson County Master Gardeners Association, Inc is to enhance and improve the quality of life in our community through expanded horticultural educational opportunity and volunteerism.”
There is a moral to the following story. If you’re easily bored or just impatient, please skip to the end, conveniently labeled for you as “Moral of the story.”
I’ve been a gardener since my father-in-law planted squash seeds in our backyard when I was still a neurology resident in Boston. The witch-hunting trials had been over in New England for some time, but discovering the difference between home-grown and store-bought vegetables still seemed supernatural, and I was hooked. I discovered the WCMGA at the Williamson County Fair about 10 years ago. Physicians never really stop going to school, and it seemed very natural to sign up for the winter course, which was in the evening that year. I was still very busy practicing neurology, but I managed to get to most of the classes, mostly on time (I thought traffic was bad then; it is MUCH worse now!). The information was useful, even if I never had time to review it, and the people were friendly. There was some mention of volunteering, and maybe even certification, which I ignored. My work days were still 12-14 hours, and getting my own garden in and taken care of was a real challenge; I certainly had no time to go work in some OTHER garden!
After a big wreck in 2008, I never resumed the full schedule I had had previously, and I slowed down even more in the years before I retired in 2012. Five years ago, I took the course again, this time with better focus. I also had the time to volunteer, and found that to be surprisingly rewarding, although it was initially not in an official WCMGA project. In any case, I became certified, joined the association and began learning more about it. Looking back, I think I still saw the WCMGA as a garden club, and little more.
Now, for anyone who had been paying attention, when reading the mission statement above (I mean REALLY reading it and absorbing it), the information would not have come as a surprise. As noted, after being in school all my life, I thought the “expanded horticultural educational opportunity” was all for me! As my own volunteer activities increased, my horizon expanded to see that volunteerism, “expanding the horticultural educational opportunities” FOR and “improving the quality of life” IN our community were the actual core of our mission. It was kind of like the religious conversion wherein the convert learns that helping others IS how they are going to help themselves....
This mission has been the core of the state extension Master Gardener programs since the founding in Washington state over 30 years ago, even when that focus hasn’t always been clear. Our interests and activities overlap with the traditional garden club, but our raison d’etre has always been helping our communities, while gaining, sharpening and sharing our own skills.
For most of this group, I probably don’t have to enumerate the personal benefits of volunteering. If you’re not sure, try this: double down on your volunteering for a while. Do that conscientiously, and see how it makes you feel, about yourself, about our projects, about your community, about your fellow volunteers, and about your place in the universe. You might even, if you’re so inclined, call the benefits “spiritual.”
But there are also some very physical benefits of being a WCMGA volunteer. We could start with the discount card you just received, which will pay for your dues in very few visits to our local retailers. Benefits continue all year with our educational meetings and publications, (discounted) trips and the cameraderie of bonding with fellow volunteers. It becomes difficult to distinguish between the corporeal and non-corporeal benefits, as it should.
The UT Extension offices, state and local, on whom we depend for foundation, organization, support, facilities and guidance, are happy to provide all those things, in return for just one thing: our volunteer hours (we keep all of our dues and funds raised). Most of that is the work, most of which directly benefits both us and our communities. The other little part is reporting those hours. (That is so they can in turn tell the next bureaucratic level just how much good the Master Gardeners across the state have been doing, which seems fair enough.) We are indeed a service organization.
Moral of the story
On the spanking new website, courtesy of a lot of hard work by Sadira Ebert, you will find MANY items of interest. Among them are instructions on how to use the site, and a button which will take you directly, without passing GO, without drama, without finger-dancing, to the state site where you can report your hours. Easy-peasy.
There will be lots more to explore, but that site in general and that button in particular are going to be important. Because from now on, earning and reporting those hours will be the crucial step for you to reap all those benefits. To get the card, to get the discounts and the rest, you’ll need to be certified. To be a certified Master Gardener in 2017, you’ll need 25 REPORTED volunteer hours, and 8 REPORTED hours of continuing education in 2016 (and your dues, of course). Education hours can come from attending meetings, reading books, attending (or giving) talks, even watching Volunteer Gardener on TV (which you should be doing anyway!!). Volunteer hours can come from projects, helping out at the meetings, answering the phone in the office and even from non-WCMGA-associated activities aligned with our goals. Probably anything you think is educational or horticultural volunteering IS; just check with Amy.
YES, exceptions will be made for good reason! Check with Amy or any board member to start the process. Stay certified for 10 years and you become a life member. Spouse or significant other? Pay your dues to become a “friend” of the association, and come to all the meetings (but don’t vote).
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or ask at a meeting.