Volunteer Spotlight: Megan Johnston

Megan Johnston is a rare gem, and we’re beyond thankful to have her as one of our regular volunteers. Those who have met Megan will know that her smile is contagious, and you’re sure to start laughing along with her within a few minutes into a conversation. Megan is currently a senior at Emory University studying environmental science and applied mathematics. After she graduates, she hopes to return to school for environmental engineering to focus on water restoration. You go, Megan!


Megan Johnston at Trees Atlanta station


In high school, Megan spent much of her time on Saturdays volunteering with mentally and physically disabled kids and adults. She became the recipient of a Golden Harald Award in science-based service, a big deal in her hometown city of Bradenton, Florida. After years of regular service throughout high school, it was a natural transition for her to start volunteering regularly on Saturdays starting in her third week of college.

Megan originally got plugged into Trees Atlanta through the Volunteer Emory program. At the time, the two people leading the program shared their enthusiasm for planting trees. Despite the seemingly hard physical task of planting, Megan decided to give it a shot. Not too long after, she returned to volunteering with Trees Atlanta and soon became a Team Lead. “I couldn’t get away. I love it now. Despite the challenge physically, it gets me moving and gets me outside each week. It’s really a highlight.” Megan noted that oftentimes, we don’t want to do what’s considered hard. But once we give new opportunities a try, we’ll find that they can be quite easy and fun. In her sophomore year of college, Megan received a J.J. Canter Award for her outstanding community service, something she’s especially proud of.


Megan Johnston volunteering with Emory students


I asked Megan what drives her to keep volunteering, especially with so many different opportunities and events going on throughout the college school year. For Megan, a lot of her motivation comes intrinsically. It gives her a good feeling to give back and know she’s making a difference, and it adds a nice break to the week.

“Every day can get monotonous and I love that volunteering gives you the opportunity to be in a different world, to just share your energy with others. I just love it…And I love getting to meet new people through it. I think that’s one of the coolest things – getting to meet community members you’d never otherwise meet, and everyone shares this passion for service and connecting on this level. It goes beyond yourself.”

When I asked Megan if she had any particularly memorable projects, she laughed and said, “Absolutely! Any tree planting that’s on a hill.” (If you’ve never planted a tree on a hill, just imagine doing yoga-type poses to dig a hole and prevent your unplanted tree from rolling down the hill). “I remember this specific one on a really steep hill, and I just remember sitting on my butt and sliding.” Megan said this made for a great photo opportunity, and now Volunteer Emory frequently uses photos from that planting in their promotions. Megan also mentioned that projects at apartments really stand out, especially when the apartment dwellers come out and join in. She loves the community element of these types of projects.


Megan Johnston with planted tree


Notably, some of Megan’s most challenging projects have been in the rain. In particular, when it’s pouring. Getting soaked isn’t fun, but she remarked that it’s always fun to come back home a little muddy. Though she does make sure she brings an extra pair of clothes with her so she doesn’t get turned down by Uber drivers.

What Megan loves about the volunteer experience is that she gets to adventure outside of campus and explore areas of the city she’s never been to. And she gets to take her friends to cool picnic spots as a result. Different from Megan’s Florida hometown, she appreciates the many parks Atlanta has to offer and getting to spend time with nature, away from the concrete. Megan added that volunteering will certainly be a part of her life in the years ahead, even in other cities as a way to get to know the area and community more.


Megan Johnston volunteering


To someone who’s thinking about volunteering, Megan offers a few words of encouragement: “Go out and volunteer just once. Get out of your comfort zone because you might find that you really like it. Sometimes it can be hard to start a new activity and I get that, but grab a friend and just do it once. And if you enjoy it, put it into your schedule and make it a routine. It’s a way to let something become a part of you…While you’re volunteering, be open-minded and be excited to meet new people. There are so many things I’ve learned from planting with other people.”

Megan has built volunteering into her schedule so regularly that her friends expect her to be planting trees each Saturday and returning back to campus with a little dirt to commemorate. She now has a collection of clothes dedicated to projects and mentioned that now she’s not afraid to get dirty.

After her family lost a few trees earlier this year on their property, Megan was excited to share the techniques she’s learned over the years with them and plant a few new trees. We can’t wait to see those trees thrive!


Megan Johnston covered in seeds


Published December 15, 2020

Written by Audrey Pruitt