I come from a long line of volunteers. My parents often volunteered their time, volunteered their home, made meals for those in need, and simply modeled that when you have the resources to share, it’s a nice feeling to offer a hand when the need is apparent.
Volunteering also has benefits. Sometimes it’s simply creating the opportunity to get to know other like-minded folks who also enjoy spending time helping others. Other times you see that your meager efforts have made a difference. Sometimes you have a chance to get behind the scenes, or understand better what it takes to host an event. I like the chance to do a task that keeps my hands busy while sharing a job, be it painting, cleaning, or making pies or salads with others who have raised their hands to pitch in.
When the opportunity was offered to participate in a volunteer training event with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc.’s event to make sure help is ready when All Out Adventures comes to the Blackstone Valley with their accessible Bikes, I jumped at the chance. Not that I can offer hands-on assistance for those with mobility issues or other challenges get on these adaptive bikes. Because of my own issues I am in need myself of assistance to enjoy riding along. But I can still help. I suggested that I could be a guinea pig for others who would be getting acquainted with how the bikes worked. And yes, it meant I would also get a chance to experiment to see which bikes might work for me in the process. No one ever said volunteers should get no benefit from their efforts.
Our first step in this training program was to get up VERY early, to leave Whitinsville by carpool for the nearly 2-hour drive out to Northampton, MA, the home of All Out Adventures. We spent the ride out on the Masspike getting better acquainted with each other, and as we each shared how we had come to be associated with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, we heard stories that were as varied as each volunteer. What a great start to our day. By the time we arrived, we already saw each other with different eyes.
Karen and Sue, the staff of this remarkable organization, All Out Adventures, met us at Look Park in Florence (just over the line from Northampton) with a trailer and van filled with bikes of various shapes, sizes and methods of propulsion. We volunteers all donned safety vests of bright orange, which drew interested stares from other visitors to the park. Several additional volunteers met us at the park, including Dick and Jill, who brought a huge tray of cookies that were enjoyed throughout the day. Dick and Jill are up to almost any adventure and say “yes” to nearly anything asked of them, with good cheer, a great sense of humor, and a willingness to make a difference.
Liz, who is visually impaired, came with her sighted guide, Jim, and they brought additional insight and a willingness to try whatever came up. Liz and I are friends as well, so it was a sweet opportunity to spend the day with her and chat in between activities. In fact, we met each other during a trail cleanup. You just never know what might happen when you show up to help.
Much of the morning was spent learning about the wide variety of bikes that are available–two different styles of recumbent tandems, three wheeled single bikes, three-wheeled hand-cranked bikes,
and even a bike with a chair in the front, to allow those who are not able to pedal, but still long to feel the joy of riding. We tried them all!
We also learned the finer points of fitting bike helmets, and some basic etiquette for showing respect for persons with disabilities.
After packing up the bikes we headed across the street to the local veterans’ hospital, where we had a quick brown bag lunch,
then set up the bikes again for an afternoon of biking fun for those being treated at the hospital, either on an outpatient or in patient basis. Both men and women slowly stopped by to see what was happening–our orange vests were pretty eye-catching. We as volunteers got the chance to work with participants we did not know, so got a chance to practice what we’d learned in the morning. I helped with registration,
Liz and her sighted guide Jim helped adjust bike helmets, while the others, with help from All Out Adventures staff, paired up riders with bikes, and got folks on their way.
It was such fun to see the joy of those who circled the large drive, smiling, racing each other, stopping in on occasion, grabbing a cookie or two, and then heading back out. Rain and cold cut the afternoon a little short, but we still were able to learn a lot, and saw how much it meant to the veterans to try out the bikes.
The instruction continued as volunteers pitched in to load the bikes back into the trailer, and then we headed out for the long drive home.
But Devon, the Heritage Corridor’s new Interim Director, put his smart phone to use and found an ice cream shop just a few miles away.
Yes, it was cold, but no one turned down the chance for ice cream, so we filed into Herrell’s in Northampton for a treat (and one more bathroom stop!) before we hit the road.
The chatter in the car was much less on our way home. Some folks may have even managed to grab a nap. But the time spent volunteering was also time spent making or deepening friendships. Worth it? Well, yes, I would say so. In fact, I’d put experiences such as this into the “priceless” category.
P.S. All Out Adventures is coming soon to the Blackstone Valley! If you know someone who could benefit from the opportunity to try out an adaptive cycle, please contact All out Adventures, by phone or email, 413-584-2052 or firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot. The rides will take place June 5, rain date June 6, from 11-3PM, at the Blackstone River Bikeway, starting at the parking area at Bridge and Canal Streets, Blackstone.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! Marjorie is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com