Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Today's guest blogger is JoLynne Lyon.


I recently was in charge of rounding up volunteers. These people were needed for the glamorous job of shoveling compost for an annual fund-raiser for two conservation districts.
This work was more than dirty; it was hard. Still, I had high hopes.
The fund-raiser had connections to high school clubs with an environmental or a farming focus. Their members knew compost is good stuff, the fund-raiser was for a good cause, and I hoped I could wheedle some help out of them. We would be shoveling in two shifts: one on the day before the event, and one the day of. The compost had been donated by the local landfill, and bags of it were to be given away with the trees we were selling.

As I made my phone calls to the club advisors, I could hear in their voices how proud they were of their students. All three advisors said the same thing: They worked with very responsible kids.
“My kids all have four-point-O averages,” said one, in charge of an environmental club in our valley’s biggest town. “They’ll be there if they can.”

Said another, “My kids are all over-achievers. They’re pretty busy, but we’ll see what we can do.”

The third advisor was as proud of his kids as the other two, but he was not as boastful. Some of his students had attendance issues. He was going to give them the choice between shoveling compost and detention, and he said I could plan on four of them.

The day before the fund-raiser was cloudy. The 20-yard heap of donated compost waited for us on the pavement, looking dark and deceptively fluffy. Compost does not pack like dirt, though anyone who has shoveled it knows it is heavier than it looks. On that chilly spring day the huge pile steamed with heat, generated by organic matter breaking down. Adult volunteers arrived in the early afternoon and joked about climbing into the pile to get warm. Instead, we all started unpacking trees and separating them into customer orders.

When school let out, three teenage boys and a girl made their way over to join us. The boys were big guys with broad shoulders. The girl was cute and blonde, and she was dressed too nicely for the grunt work that waited for her. These were the detention kids. The girl joined in with the guys, scraping the compost off the pavement and shoveling it into sacks. Soon they were working hard enough that they looked comfortable in their shirt sleeves. These were future farmers, and they knew how to run a shovel. They were the only volunteers who came.

“Thanks,” I told them as the afternoon wore on. “You guys are great.”

One of the boys shrugged. “It was either this or sit in a classroom,” he said. He worked with his friends for three straight hours, with no reward except for a can of cold soda.

Steve, an adult volunteer, was in charge of the shoveling crew the next morning. He arrived, saw the small heap of compost, and wondered how we would get through the day with so little.
Then he saw the 200 bags that the teenagers had shoveled and set aside. Steve is a natural smiler, but his grin was wider than usual that day.

Soon, two of the four original teens showed up for more. The girl had dropped out, but a big blond guy came back with his tall, clean-cut friend.

“Hey,” Steve called to me later, indicating the future farmers with his head, “Do you believe these guys are on detention?”

They were the only high school volunteers we saw that day.

The young men went on shoveling. By then we had run out of bags, so this time they scooped the compost directly into the trailers of people who came to pick up their orders.

Jon, the chairman of one of the conservation district boards, stood by Steve and watched the guys at work. He had spent that morning helping customers pick up their orders. Without the volunteers, he would have had to shovel compost, too. Jon was smiling.
“We’re not telling your teacher you showed up,” he said to the young men. “You guys won’t get credit for this, your teacher won’t let you graduate, and if you get in trouble again, we’ll have you back here next year!” The young men laughed and stuck it out until the last of the pile was gone. Then they drank another soda, took the note I wrote to prove they had come, and disappeared.

I don’t know where the over-achievers were. I can’t blame them for not coming. I’m sure I would have had other weekend plans, myself, at seventeen. I am also sure they are as smart as their advisors said they were. They’ll go to good universities and get good jobs.

But those detention kids got my thank-you treats. I took a plateful of brownies and lemon bars to their classroom on Monday, thinking I would catch their teacher during his free period. I miscalculated the time, and found him teaching a roomful of future farmers instead. I recognized a few of them. One of them knew me, too.
“Hey,” the big blond kid said, pointing as I walked in. “It’s that chick!”

I laughed and spoke to his teacher. “I’m sorry I came in during class time. I just brought these for you and the students that helped us out. Thank you for sending them. They were great.”

The teacher shrugged it off. “I’m glad they could help.”

I left and he went back to teaching the people who will soon go out into the world and show us all how to work.


Candace E. Salima said...

Wow - I'm impressed with the students who helped. Not impressed with others who did not. And really not impressed with the teacher who shrugged off your thanks.

Thanks for sharing.

Anna Maria Junus said...

I'm impressed with the ones who helped too.

But I'm sure the over-achievers had more on their plate than they can handle. They might have been doing community service elsewhere, or homework, or taking a well-needed break.