This article was published as part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who give back in their communities.
Rachel Ann Deffenbaugh is currently the Therapeutic Horticulture Supervisor at the Missouri Botanical Garden. She was formerly the Urban Farm Manager at Gateway Greening. Read the full interview below to learn what inspires Rachel to give.
Q1: How do you give back?
Gateway Greening: I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2010. This is a formalized volunteer position. Since then, I have worked for Gateway Greening. As a part of my position, I've managed 1,000s of volunteers over the year for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. I also managed a therapeutic job training program for individuals struggling with homelessness, mental illness, addiction and/or trauma. I am of the opinion that even paid work within the non-profit sector should be lauded, as it takes passion and sacrifice to effectively work within that sector. Since Feb. 2017, I've been volunteering on the advisory board and voluntarily assisting with Gateway Greening's strategic plan. Additionally, I have made small financial contributions to Gateway Greening for the past 7 years.
17th Ward Democrats: I serve as the treasurer for this new political group. I believe that political engagement is critical to an active and engaged society.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment: I have voluntarily served on their Food Policy Coalition for 2 years.
Forest ReLeaf: I served on their Young Friends group for 1 year.
Q2: What inspired you to start giving?
I started doing various service projects through the Girl Scouts when I was young. Since then, I have always been involved in some realm of service. I do not feel content unless I am helping to build capacity for others. Throughout college I served as a GED tutor, focusing on reading and math. I've served as an AmeriCorps member with two different organizations. I've intentionally built my career around this concept of capacity building.
Q3: What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?
To me, giving is an important component of being a member of a community. If I want to live in a vibrant, functional and just community, than I better be prepared to work towards those goals!
I think it's important to clarify that "giving" does not necessarily mean financial contributions. It has always been necessary for me to live on a tight budget. I donate money when I can, but it is always a small amount. But there is so much more that an individual can do besides donating money! People can volunteer their time at any number of organizations. Alternatively, they can call state or national representatives to advocate for an issue that is important to them. They can join a local neighborhood or political organization to work to improve their community. The point is, money is not the only form of giving!
Q4: What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.
Start small. Only commit to things that fit comfortably into your lifestyle. I have a tendency to over-commit my time, which results in poor quality work and a personal sense of chaos. I have learned that I can have a much greater impact if I focus my energy on one or two issues and commit to doing them well.
Q5: Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.
While working with Gateway Greening, I interacted with a vast number of people struggling with homelessness, mental illness and/or substance abuse. I was lucky enough to build strong relationships with many of these people. To this day, many of them still regularly contact me with news and updates. They're doing so well in their lives and they're proud of that! And they should be! I feel honored to have helped to build their capacity to create the life they want for themselves.