“What's my worth to BHA and the Armed Forces Initiative?“
This is an honest question that was asked of me by a volunteer in Minneapolis. An Air Force veteran who was responsible for setting up our 2022 Boundary Waters canoe trip for 18 veterans. As a thank you for his hours of volunteer time setting this event up, the AFI board offered to send him and his spouse to the BHA annual fundraiser in Missoula under the condition that he also volunteer to work the apparel sales booth during his time there.
This BHA member went on to say, “BHA does so much, and there are so many priorities, rolling out the red carpet like this for me can’t possibly be worth this cost.”
I've been thinking about this question, because it horrified me. While on the phone I initially blew it off and went on about how it was no big deal, and we were happy to send him to Rendezvous. After all, he’s going to spend most of his time working, which will save me effort and time.
We got off the phone quickly. He had to take his kids home from daycare and I was in the middle of making my two little monsters some deer tacos. Children’s screams in the background of both our phones jumbled into a cacophony of chaos and mandated a quick end to the conversation.
But I’ve been thinking about that question for a while now. I finally got my kids to sleep and have been mulling over a response. The simplest answer to what's your worth is it BHA is, well...everything. Volunteers like you who put in the time and effort to make a difference yet still believe they aren’t doing enough is the epitome of what makes BHA function. This struggle to see one's own self worth is also one of the biggest issues in the military community right now.
We all work as hard as we can and still don’t believe we’re doing enough. For whatever psychological reason it is just about impossible for the military community to have the self-value it takes to understand their incredible worth not just to BHA, but to the world. It’s criminal!
To really spell it out for this volunteer, I’ll say:
We owe everything to you. The 18 veterans on that trip got to experience a hell of a week in the backcountry catching fish, sometimes over 100 fish a day, learning about the importance of the public wild places both to themselves, and to the greater veteran community. They learned how to go and enjoy these public resources they’ve helped to defend without the help of a nonprofit or anybody, other than their own self reliance.
BHA got three AFI leaders from that trip; everything that happens in Michigan. Everything that happens in Minnesota, everything that happens in North Dakota now happens because you planned this trip for us.
During that trip, one of the participants told me in confidence that six months prior, he was ready to commit suicide and didn’t because that day he got the email that he was invited to go on this trip. Now he’s a major AFI volunteer in his community. He has a reason to go on. He has a mission, and that mission is conservation.
“What is my worth to BHA?” The truth is that your worth is immeasurable. The 18 veterans you individually introduced to the backcountry, the 200 veterans that got access to the backcountry because of the leaders you trained, and the one veteran who is alive today because of your actions...you can’t measure that.
“What is my worth to BHA?”
The answer: Everything.
I’m ashamed that all I can offer you is a free trip to a fundraiser where you will have a fancy dinner in exchange for two days of volunteer work sitting behind a booth selling t-shirts.
“What is my worth?”
How is that even a question!