At 15, my mother forced me to spend one long, hot Saturday planting tree seedlings at a local park with my Girl Scout troop.
After spending the day digging in the dirt, with sweat running down my face, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t believe I had just planted 75 seedlings.
However, the next morning, I woke up sore and stiff from using muscles I had never used. I was also itchy ... very itchy.
It quickly became apparent that I was covered from head to toe in poison ivy. For days, I scratched and itched and begrudged the seedlings and my mother for the pain and embarrassment that they had caused me.
Eventually, the incessant itch subsided, my confidence was restored and the fire-red, oozing bumps disappeared until the incident became a hazy memory, only to be recalled by my older siblings making fun of me.
That was until I was riding my bike one day the following spring, and I came across the park where we had planted the trees. I stopped to inspect (from a distance) the growth of the seedlings. They appeared to have grown a little, but not much.
At first, I felt annoyed that I had wasted a Saturday planting them and then dealt with the aftermath of the poison ivy.
But after sitting there for a while, I started to admire the larger surrounding trees that were just coming into bloom and realized that eventually the seedlings would do the same and that the park would look beautiful when it was in full bloom.
Instantly, my annoyance turned to gratitude and pride. I felt grateful that I had the opportunity to give back to my community and proud knowing that what I had done had made a positive impact. It was a good feeling, one that I wanted to hold on to forever.
So I started looking for other volunteer activities, aside from Girl Scouts and planting trees.
At 16, it was somewhat challenging, but my mother was active in the community so I was able to tag along with her.
Her interests and activities varied from making and selling baked goods or selecting Christmas presents to be given to a needy family. It didn’t matter to me what I did. I always had a great time and enjoyed that good feeling.
Despite it being more than 15 years ago, planting those little seedlings planted something in me, too, something that has stayed with me to this day: giving back.
I have dedicated myself to various charities, events, committees and causes all with that common theme.
My interests in those years have shifted and changed as I have graduated from college, moved, changed jobs and had children, but my goal to give back is always the same.
I look forward to the day that my children start tagging along with me and can only hope they feel as good as I do when they give back.
Sara Corbett lives in Charleston with her husband and two children, a 4-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter. She works for the Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District as a public affairs specialist and enjoys the beach, running and reading.