Graduate Fieldwork Volunteer
Louise Ranck, MDiv
In my final year of a later-life Master of Divinity degree program, I needed to find a place to do substantial volunteering in order to fulfill a fieldwork requirement. I learned of Gould Farm through a current staff member, who happened to be a former student of mine in my dim-distant high school music teacher days. The Gould community environment appealed to me, as well as its grounded approach to mental health challenges. I did not know how literally I would be doing “field work” in my time there!
For most of my time on the Farm, I worked in the kitchen and on the Farm team, working with the cows and in the creamery. Learning new skills and taking on challenging tasks (such as cleaning out a pigpen on a 95-degree day) stretched me in good ways. The team leaders were alert to and flexible with my capacities as they were with all the guests on the teams. I appreciated being taught by guests who were experienced with the jobs at hand. I had to adjust my customary do-it-all mode to sharing tasks with team members.
Beyond the physical work, I was able to use some of my training and skills, offering group music experiences and a Psalms study.
As a person accustomed to living alone, I was worried that an ever-present community would feel overwhelming to me. I soon realized that I loved the rhythms of meals and work and activities together and found plenty of time apart when I needed it.
Most surprising to me was understanding that much of the value of my presence as a volunteer was simply that… presence. Seeking and allowing for warm engagement, being curious and open and always aware that all of us experience varied levels of mental/emotional health in our lifetimes. Being at Gould Farm nurtured my own sense of well-being.
My volunteer time was the last chapter of my M.Div. degree and seven months on, as I write, I miss the richness of community life, the sense of being useful simply by being a responsive, engaged person, and the cows. I continue to wonder how to re-fold those elements into my life and work.