Spring volunteering projects to help you get dirty, reduce stress

Photo from Urban Roots

Horticulture therapy is a thing. Studies have shown that gardening and generally digging around in the dirt can reduce stress by decreasing your cortisol, the primary stress hormone that kicks in during the fight-or-flight panic that happens when you are chased by a wolf or, say, reading the morning headlines.

Do you get the same therapeutic effects from cleaning up? Of course! Getting rid of trash and clutter — and exercising while you’re doing it — can change your perspective and help you feel like you’re more in control. Besides, you can’t protest every day.

But let’s say you don’t have a garden, a lawn or a trash-strewn street of your own? No worries! There are about 300 parks and dozens of community gardens and countless trash-strewn streets in Austin and Travis County and right now, and all of them need your help. This is your opportunity to get a double-dose of stress reduction: by volunteering and getting dirty at the same time!

Here are some of the best opportunities available this spring:

MARCH 4: It’s My Park Day
One hundred projects all over Austin. Thousands of volunteers. The Austin Parks Foundation annual event remains one of the most popular, large-scale volunteering projects in the city because they have this event running like a well-oiled machine. Right now there’s still time to be a project leader, even if it’s your first time. A project leader meeting will be held on Saturday, Feb. 25. Or you can simply volunteer, alone or as a group. Everyone gets a free T-shirt! But hurry — volunteer slots are limited.

MARCH 11: Creek Restoration at East Bouldin Creek
One of the many creek and river clean-up projects hosted by the Colorado River Alliance. You’ll help restore natural vegetation, remove invasive plant species and plant banks of native vegetation called “seed islands”, which promote increased biodiversity of plants and insects. Volunteers learn about riverside ecology, plant life, and habitat restoration.

APRIL 8: Clean Sweep
Not so much of a gardening as it is a good-old-fashioned trash pick-up day, Keep Austin Beautiful’s city-wide service day spans 150+ sites in 31 zip codes throughout Austin and results in over 30 tons of trash removed by 4,000 plus volunteer who contribute 8,700 combined service hours. All that hard work is followed by a huge volunteer appreciation party, complete with music, free T-shirts, lunch, children’s environmental activities and more.

ONGOING: Texas Parks & Wildlife
Sure, you can help clean-up and get ready for spring with TPW, but you can also volunteer to be a guide or docent. Every want to guide someone through that cool cave at Colorado Bend? Or talk to kids about bass fishing? Here’s the place to sign up.

ONGOING: Spring Dig-In
Green Corn Project helps elderly, disabled and low-income residents grow their own organic vegetables by providing the volunteers and knowledge to get them started. With several Spring Dig-Ins scheduled throughout March, you have many opportunities to get your hands dirty (though gardening gloves are recommended). Take it up a notch and learn how to be a Dig-In Volunteer Leader. There’s a training for leaders this Saturday, Feb. 25.

ONGOING: Volunteer at a local farm
The Texas Young Farmer Coalition lists several local farming operations that need volunteers to help garden, plant, harvest, clean and process food. Springtime is always busy on a farm, so get in there!

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