April Great Story by Kelly Ryan, Southern California Fellow

I ran through the options as to why my alarm was blaring loudly while it was still dark outside. Work? My second Job? Practice? (Still a habit from my college days). I then realized the day that I had spent hours and hours stressing about and working towards was finally here: our volunteer day. It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to it, I was, but we only had about 23 people sign up to come and I was anxious. All I wanted was for the day to go smoothly and for there to be no surprises or disasters.

The one positive aspect to waking up at 5:30 am was that there was practically no one on the freeway so the drive that normally takes 45 mins to an hour took around 30 minutes. (this is super exciting if you’re from Southern California) I arrived ready to get down to business as the volunteers would be showing up around 9 and it was already 7 by the time I picked up supplies and got to our location. My team felt the same way I could tell as we all began to take the lead on various tasks that needed to be completed before the volunteers showed up. Plants delivered? Check. Tools organized? Check. Check-in table with food and sign in sheet set up? Check. Everything was ready to go and we just needed one thing: volunteers.

As it neared 9:05 we only had about 4 of the 23 volunteers confirmed at our site. I literally was standing in the street looking both ways constantly seeing if cars were coming carrying volunteers. I did a lot of the outreach and signing up so when it was 9:30 and only 13 had showed up, I started to get even more anxious. We had to start though, if we had any hope of finishing all 19 properties we were planting at. After a quick intro, we broke into groups to head to our properties. Mike and I had Stephanie, a grad student, Luz and her son, and Cliff, one of the property owners. Ironically, we went to Cliff’s house first and began to plant. My anxiety started to fade away as our group easily finished the first house in 15 mins. We had about 6 houses in our group and if we kept on this pace, we would be able to finish and help other groups plant.

Fast forward about an hour and we were working on our last house for our group. This house was my favorite to work on because not only was my anxiety gone but my group was feeling proud abut how fast and efficient we were working. I squatted down and began to dig a hole to plant one of the small sages. I looked up to wipe the sweat from my forehead (hey, it’s the San Fernando valley, and it’s hot out there) and saw a boy standing on the porch watching all of us. I smiled and said hello to which he replied “What are you doing?”, and skipped down the steps. I explained we were giving his yard some new plants. “Can I help you?” were the next words out of his mouth and a smile spread wide across my face. I gave him an enthusiastic “Sure!” and he bent down a couple feet away and started digging.

I can’t put into words how happy this made me. Prior to this, we hadn’t interacted with any of the homeowners (which some were at work granted) and seeing how eager he was to help just made me feel ecstatic. It really made all of the stress planning this event worth it as I saw this little boy excited about what was being planted in his yard and the fact the he wanted to help showed me that I was really bettering someone else. He was around 13 and he could’ve been off playing video games or doing literally anything else but he came outside with the intention of helping us. It was the sweetest thing. He planted the plant like a pro and even though he couldn’t come with us to go help the other groups, I thanked him generously and hoped I would see him again next time I was out here.

To finish this story off, I couldn’t be more proud of my team. In the end we got 16 volunteers, less then we signed up, and we still finished planting all 19 properties with about an hour to spare. We finished early! I could not believe it as I was expecting to be out in the valley all day. There were no surprises or disasters, just like I had hoped and everyone had a smile on their face as we were cleaning up. We did it and we did it as a team ourselves from the beginning. I really didn’t think I would feel this rewarded but my level of pride was through the roof thanks to my team but mainly from that little boy at Ranchito Ave.