I was in the audience for a presentation lead by a panel of veterans when I first learned of Soul River. One by one, these brave humans spoke to us of the extreme and numerous challenges they face as they attempt to navigate the complicated world they came back to after serving on active duty. The creator of the organization, Chad Brown, told stories of his own battles, and of his smoldering desire to unite veterans and youth, two groups of people who struggle to have their voices heard, by empowering them to be environmental ambassadors.
Late that night when I returned home, with the words of our nation’s heroes still echoing in my mind, I switched on my laptop and opened up my browser. I watched every video associated with Soul River, read every article. This, I remember telling myself, is the good that exists in the world. This is something worthy, something that will change lives. I wanted to help change lives, too. I submitted my application to volunteer for Soul River that same night.
When I had the great honor of joining Soul River as a volunteer for a deployment this summer, I had it in my head that I would be setting up tents, helping with food prep, and loading fishing gear into trucks. The reality of my experience was much, much deeper than that. I wasn’t just setting up tents with youth participants, we were problem solving to build each others’ shelter for the night. I wasn’t simply cooking food, I was preparing a meal that would be shared alongside soul-stirring, honest conversation. I wasn’t setting up rods and reels, the entire team was using open communication and patience to teach each other a new skill.
As a volunteer, my place was to support Soul River’s mission, but I learned that to be of service, I had to thread myself into the group. This isn’t a position for a bystander, volunteering with SRI means fully immersing yourself in the action. You’ll be the first one up to make coffee for camp, and the last one to bed after putting away the chairs from the sharing circle, and you will do all of it while your heart swells with the joy only obtained through feeling, no…knowing, that you are a part of something truly great, far beyond yourself.
I signed on as a volunteer to help change a life, and while I believe that my service will positively effect the participants, I know that the life I changed by joining this community…is my own.
Soul River ignites fires of change from embers of hope, and it is my greatest honor to help fan the flames.