Perennial volunteers help make Baha’i schools beautiful, welcoming

March 7, 2019
Perennial volunteers help make Baha’i schools beautiful, welcoming

Hands-on service is an integral part of every program at the national Baha’i schools and institutes. Many Baha’is and friends who visit or take part in weekend or weeklong programs are familiar with pitching in with after-meal cleanup, a simple service to fellow participants.

Behind the scenes, handfuls of volunteers at every location lend additional support — in kitchen, hospitality, gardening or office work, for instance. Many youth volunteers spend a year or so in this service. It would be difficult for the schools to offer programs without this assistance.

Still other volunteers lend their efforts year after year at a single school or institute. There isn’t room here to mention all these perennial volunteers, but here we can highlight a few who serve tirelessly over many seasons.  

Judy Holly, on her regular visits since 2009 to Bosch Baha’i School in California from her home in Nevada, serves as horticulturist as well as helping with the school’s archives. Photo courtesy of Judy Holly

Four times a year, Judy Holly comes from her home in Nevada to serve as horticulturist at Bosch Baha’i School near Santa Cruz, California, beautifying the grounds and landscape so that all who visit the campus have the bounty of enjoying the gardens.

Judy has also assisted in organizing the school’s archives and participated in building its local relationships, such as with the Shumei Farm and the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Arboretum.  

“Working in the gardens is my love,” she says. Still, she enjoys being among others serving the Faith in whatever fashion: “It is inspiring to see those who serve grow and transform from lessons learned.”

“Her love for the land is transformed into the beauty we see and feel whenever we have a moment to interact with the natural life around us,” says Allen Lu, Bosch’s administrator. Judy’s conversations with guests and staff about the 80-acre grounds, he adds, are so connected with all the elements of nature that she will share “stories of the deer, coyote, and animal life around us.”

Sheila Idoine travels regularly from Canada to help with gardening and archiving at Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Louhelen Baha’i School

For the past eight years, Sheila Idoine has been traveling regularly from Canada to Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan, to help maintain the many flower beds on campus. She also organizes historically important documents in the archives and responds to related correspondence, often connected with historical research projects. “It is truly inspiring to witness the level of dedication and quality that Sheila demonstrates in her service at this center of learning,” says Cam Herth, Louhelen’s administrator.

Sheila says her adventure began when she asked if she could weed the garden. “When I returned a few weeks later there was the archive project waiting for me,” she relates. This  inspired her to take a course on archiving from the Wilmette Institute. Soon, with the help of former Louhelen staff member Daniel Lorsignol, “we emptied and reshelved the entire library using a new system.”

“I have made many wonderful friends, both staff and participants. The cooperative and spiritual aspects of service together, with other like-minded people, are such a blessing, and have enabled me to grow spiritually, too.”

Anne Bouchard was part of a task force creating the Peace Garden at Green Acre Baha’i School in Eliot, Maine, and has volunteered to maintain it in all seasons. Photo courtesy of Green Acre Baha’i School

Anne Bouchard of New Hampshire has attended programs since her youth at Green Acre Baha’i School in Eliot, Maine, and in recent years traveled there occasionally to help out. In 2004 she was asked to be part of a team to design and create a Peace Garden for the centenary of the treaty signed in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to end the Russo-Japanese War. Green Acre had hosted celebrations of that treaty in 1905.

“My initial reaction was that it was impossible for me,” Anne recalls. “I live 125 miles away, had a full-time job, only amateur, homeowner experience — and gardens require a lot of attention and care!” Soon, though, “I was moved to take on the task, and I’ve been finding time for service at Green Acre ever since, maintaining the Peace Garden and landscaping around the main campus buildings, helping out when I can in food service and/or with laundry.”  

Says Robert Sapiro, the school’s administrator, “How deeply grateful we are for her tireless service here at Green Acre. Her spirit of love is felt by the participants, staff and visitors alike whether in person or through the results of her work in the beautiful Peace Garden.”

Barbara Tong has volunteered in many roles at the Native American Baha’i Institute on the Navajo Nation: as a cook, bus driver, children’s class teacher, administrative assistant, construction and maintenance supervisor, and librarian. Photo courtesy of Barbara Tong

When the idea for development of the Native American Baha’i Institute (NABI) was being presented at the Baha’i National Convention in 1979, Barbara Tong was there with a group of Diné (Navajo) elders. And when the property in Houck, Arizona, was put into service, Barbara was there in June 1981: “I drove the first truck onto the property the first time we cut the fence,” she shares.

That first project was a monthlong teaching effort, and she cooked for participants. “I had the tailgate of my truck and a Coleman stove, no buildings, no electricity, and no running water,” Barbara says.

Since then she has served as a cook, bus driver, children’s class teacher, administrative assistant, construction and maintenance supervisor, and librarian. “Being at NABI to serve the Cause has been my life and my pleasure on and off for the last 38 years and I hope to continue doing so as long as possible,” she says.

“Her generosity and constant acts of service,” says Alvin Bitsilly, administrator for the institute, “have touched my heart and the hearts of community members and thousands of visitors who have come to NABI from around the world.”

Interested in volunteering time in service at a national Baha’i school? Want more information about programs? Please check the website for the particular school for contact information and listings


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