Life and Work Have You Stressed? Volunteer!

how making Play-Doh and cutting construction paper can make life calm again

Cherié Dilts

Four to five days a week, I work as an emergency and critical care veterinary technician at the Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota. I spend my day working with patients in serious or life-threatening conditions – everything from major trauma such as being hit by a car or attacked by another pet, to metabolic emergencies, toxicities, and more. It is fast-paced and stressful, and I am constantly on my toes and thinking critically. I love my job, but to avoid burnout, I need a break.

Other times, I get free rein over organizing cupboards, or I get to spend time cleaning items that have been well-loved. Each week is different, but it’s always stress-free. There are no stressed owners or barking dogs, no one is trying to bite me (usually), no IV fluid pumps are beeping, and no patients are trying to die. It’s just me, my mind, and my task at hand.

I get that break on Tuesdays, when I drive the opposite direction to volunteer at the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. I park my car on First Avenue downtown, walk across the footbridge, and step into a different world. Here, things move at a different pace. First, I sign in at the front desk and walk through “Bitty City,” the museum’s fully functioning city for kids, where everything is built with them in mind. There are always children and parents throughout, playing dentist, shopping at the store, serving meals at the diner, or building a house in Kidstruction. I head downstairs through the Art Café, where kids are painting, playing with the Play-Doh, getting wet in Waterworks, and putting together crafts. The background noise is always laughter and joy.

I say good morning to everyone, and head to my whiteboard to see what jobs they have for me. My first job is almost always making the Play-Doh. We have a recipe that involves Kool-Aid, and it smells amazing! The process is always the same, but I get to choose the color and scent. I’ve made everything from mint green to grape bubble gum purple, neon orange, and vibrant red. Here, the choices are trivial, and my decisions will not affect a life.

Next, I get to move on to something mindless … which is my absolute favorite. Sometimes, it’s cutting 1,200 triangles for the next art project, labeling 300 birthday cards, or stuffing envelopes. Other times, I get free rein over organizing cupboards, or I get to spend time cleaning items that have been well-loved. Each week is different, but it’s always stress-free. There are no stressed owners or barking dogs, no one is trying to bite me (usually), no IV fluid pumps are beeping, and no patients are trying to die. It’s just me, my mind, and my task at hand.

When everything is completed, I always leave feeling better and fulfilled, my mind cleared of any of the stresses that the previous week in the emergency room brought me. I often take this newfound feeling of bliss with me to get coffee at ECDC or the Grand Ave Café, or browse Eclectica on Grand, where I still get to love on a dog. Typically, I’ll run a few errands, and pick up some groceries at Festival before heading back home, refreshed, and ready to start my next week of challenges.

If you find yourself in a mentally stressful job, whether it’s in the medical field or elsewhere, I encourage you to find a place to change it up and volunteer. Be it at the Children’s Museum (sorry, the Play-Doh task is mine!), a local humane society, a homeless shelter, a food pantry, or something else… spending some time doing something out of the norm can really make all the difference, for everyone.

Cherié Dilts grew up in Colfax and currently lives in the country near Woodville with her husband, two dogs, and five chickens. She works at the Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota as an emergency and critical care technician.

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