Wearing a bright red T-shirt with Get Dirty stamped across the chest, Steve Fenick explains that it's one of a big stack he's earned by volunteering with the Spokane REI to clear, build and maintain area trails and parks.
"My stack's bigger," jokes wife Cindy, beginning the friendly competitive banter that defines their 12-year marriage. The two outdoor enthusiasts have volunteered locally with REI, Washington Trails Association, the National Ski Patrol, Spokane Mountaineers and other groups on projects that utilize their skill sets to the max. Both are now retired, but Steve, 57, worked as a general contractor, and Cindy served in the Air Force for 23 years, retiring as a major after supervising enlisted men and women in the aircraft maintenance division. He's built just about everything, and she's supervised just about everybody.
"I was working for REI where I learned about REI Adventures and their partnership with Conservation Volunteers International," Cindy says. "We had been to Yosemite several times, and thought this would be a great opportunity to do projects that would help preserve and sustain this most beautiful national park."
In September 2013, they joined a team of 35 people, ranging in age from the late teens to early 70s, for a week-long experience. They camped a few miles from the worksite, and a cook crew served hearty food.
During the day, they broke into smaller groups to rebuild fences and walls, clear trail hazards, limb trees and reroute trails. Free time found them swimming, exploring trails and overlooks, and ending the day with campfires and s'mores.
"The biggest challenge," Cindy says, "is learning how to utilize different people's skills. Not everyone thinks, works, organizes or visualizes the same way or speed, so the group leaders have to learn how to use each person's attributes so everyone feels they're contributing."
At nearly $1,000 per person, the cost caused both Cindy and Steve to think twice about spending the money to do the same type of volunteering they do at home at no cost. "We could have gone to Hawaii for what Yosemite cost," Steve says.
"If you can incorporate sightseeing or visiting before or after the workweek," Cindy adds, "then it's worth it, and we'd do it again." n
Photos provided by our local voluntourists.
REI volunteer vacations in North America are seven to 10 days long and range from $990 to $1,495. Latin America trips are $2,995 to $4,095. Airfare is not included. rei.com/adventures/trips/volunteer-vacations.
Make sure your trip will be a help and not a hindrance. Check out potential organizations at the International Volunteerism Resource Center (idealist.org), a clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities. CharityNavigator.org tracks the financial health of charities.
Voluntourists pay their own way, and trips can cost thousands of dollars. Here are some ideas from Habitat for Humanity to help cover the cost of a trip:
• The Power of Ten: Ask 10 friends to donate $10. Then ask those 10 friends to ask 10 friends to donate, and so on. Before you know it, you'll have more than enough!
• Share on social media: Share your participation with your networks. Provide updates so others will know how much money you've raised and how much more you need.
• Host a brunch/lunch/dinner: Invite friends to come and dine, and ask for a minimum donation to attend. Speak about your involvement and why it is important.