When Loren Johnson retired at 62 and moved to Kauai from Homer, Alaska, he didn’t know that this northern most archipelago in the Hawaiian Islands was called the Garden Island. He’d never been involved with plants or gardens period. But today, after almost 14 years of volunteering with the National Tropical Botanical Garden just a few minutes from his home, Loren can identify a breadfruit, spot a heliconias and share his love of tropical plants with a steady stream of locals and visitors. His upbeat attitude and get it done mindset makes him and invaluable member of the volunteer team, with no job too menial to be completed with pride and pleasure. A winner of the Older Americans Award, Loren is now a fit 76 and his passion for giving back keeps his mind, body and spirit young.
Loren is committed to making a difference in his community and he is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honorees. Points of Light spoke with him about his commitment to service.
What inspires you to volunteer?
When I retired in 2007 at the age of 62, I knew I wanted to do more to serve the public. For the first six months I delivered meals on wheels, but the 20-40 miles a day driving got to be tedious. One day I passed by The National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) and realized, those gardens are just two miles from my house. Maybe there is something I can do for them. I met the volunteer coordinator and I’ve been with them ever since, almost 14 years. It’s such a beautiful place and now I have a simple task which I love.
Describe your volunteer role.
In the beginning I did weekly surveying and harvesting of breadfruit trees for the Breadfruit Research Orchard, which promotes the conservation, study and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation. They showed me what to do – I didn’t know anything about breadfruit, being from Alaska! Now I’m the exhibit custodian, which means I walk the 75-acre garden every week to clean signs that get pooped on by tropical birds and geckos.I also use my old Dodge Ram pick-up to haul rubbish to the dump. When the gardens have a special event, I manage the parking for them. I also do trash hauling for Habitat
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Being in the gardens is just fantastic.I come early before the tours start and average about two miles a day. I feel that I’m helping the earth, and meeting people along the way. I’ve literally met thousands of people over the years and the garden staff are like family.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I think I’ve learned to relate well to people.To enjoy being able to do something that’s worthwhile without having any profit motive. I ‘ve learned all kinds of botanical information, not that I’ve retained it!
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Not really. One of the things about living on Kauai, it’s paradise every day. I’ve grown so serene and satisfied with my life. I am excited by everything I do every day.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
It’s good for the soul. The way it’s been for me, giving back makes me a happy person.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
At any stage of your life, you can make mindful changes and contributions. I’ve challenged myself to focus on the positive and eliminate the negative. Maturally, volunteering anywhere for a long time, everything can’t always be perfect – there might be a little stress or personality conflicts. But the he positives far outweigh that small stuff.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Loren? Visit All for Good for local volunteer opportunities.