IDEA #14. Go to a local cemetery and see if there is work you could do: cleaning up around the stones, picking up litter, or even making records of the people buried there. You may have to consult with local officials to find out what you can do. (Don’t try cleaning up the stones unless you are being supervised by a responsible adult, though; older stones can be irreparably damaged by attempts to clean them.)
There are cemeteries that look like a millionaire’s front lawn, and then there are those that receive little to no attention. It is reasonable to assume that a cemetery that is well-kept, mowed and weed-free does not require volunteer assistance, but a graveyard that is overgrown and littered—perhaps because it is used as a kind of free-form park or even trash receptacle by neighbors, needs help.
If a cemetery rescue mission seems in order, the first order of business is to determine who is in charge. Sometimes it is a religious body or a town, but some cemeteries are privately owned and a few—particularly small, isolated rural plots—are even the property of a single family. The more intensive the level of work the young volunteer wants to perform, the more urgent is the need to establish who the controlling authority might be and to obtain permission to conduct a clean-up operation. If the work is a matter of cleaning up litter—and the volunteer should be very wary of picking up even the most weatherworn flags and flower containers, no matter how unsightly they may be; if the litter consists of deposit bottles or cans, the volunteer can even establish a little fund to defray expenses.
Because a cemetery may look unkempt does not mean there are not those who love it and care for it, in their way. Cemeteries with particular historical interest need to be treated almost as archaeological sites, with a minimum of unsupervised work performed—no lawn mowers need to enter a cemetery without the express authorization of the management. It may even be the case that no one seems to know exactly who is in charge, which can turn the project into a research exercise.
It may also be that a small or old cemetery needs just the infusion of interest and energy that a young volunteer can provide. Perhaps a bit of interest will spark the management into organizing—or letting the volunteer organize—a “clean up, fix up” event, a nice way to bring resources to bear on what must be regarded as an important part of a community’s heritage.
And working around graves need not be morbid or scary. Such efforts are acts of respect and continuity, reminders that individuals, and times, pass on, leaving the living to remember and learn.