"I have been wanting to volunteer ever since I was in junior high," says Maegen Anderson, a recent college grad and member of First Congregational UCC in Bakersfield, Calif.
Anderson, along with longtime friend, Christopher Charney, volunteered through the UCC's Partners in Service program at Overlook Farm's Heifer Learning Center in Rutland, Mass. She and Charney were trained as education volunteers to welcome the many church and school groups of all ages who come to Overlook Farm.
"We give them a tour of the farm where we talk about our 3 acres of organic gardens, plus the benefits we get from all kinds of livestock," says Anderson. "[The farm has] a camel, llamas, alpacas, cattle … just about any kind of animal that Heifer gives, we have here."
The five-month-long assignment was a natural answer to Anderson's yearning to make a difference in the world. "I, like so many people in the U.S. have been so privileged. ...It's our turn to give back to the rest of the world."
Besides falling in love with the animals she helps care for each day, Anderson says the best part of her volunteer assignment is being there for what she calls "a-ha moments."
"We have a lot of middle school age groups that come, a lot of them from pretty nice, privileged areas," she says. "When they learn that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population, but is consuming over 30 percent of the world's resources, their eyes … you really can notice that they are coming to realizations that they have never thought of before."
When guests at the ranch stay overnight in the farm's Global Village, more realizations occur.
"[Guests] might be staying in the Guatemala house, which is water-proof, but they are still sleeping on a dirt floor. They wake up and realize that this is not just a fun camping experience, but this is how other people are living every day," Anderson says. "And that is why it is important to be helping them."