Volunteering can be very rewarding

It was raining on and off all day, typical of a spring day in April. But despite the rain there were over a dozen people pulling invasive garlic mustard in the arboretum. A short walk away a small group of people found trash and treasure as they excavated an old farm dump. In the garden, plants were getting removed and separated. A group, varying in age from 10 to 50 planted native shrubs. Along the road, poncho clad people, in their orange vests were clearing out trash from the roadside. And inside and around the building folks were scrubbing, organizing and dusting. Did I mention that it was raining?

If you were to have come down to Audubon that April day last year you would have seen all this work being done by staff and volunteers. Your first impression may have been, “gosh there are a lot of people here on such a crummy day.” But as you walked around you would have noticed something else. Most of these people are smiling and laughing. “It looks like they are having fun!” might be your second impression.

Our first Volunteer Day was fun. We worked hard at different projects to spruce up Audubon after the winter. We all got a little muddy, a little cold, and a little tired. But we did a large amount of work that day. Afterwards we shared our successes and funny stories and a good meal together.

Rarely a day goes by when there is not a volunteer at Audubon. Even as I write this on a weekday morning, Linda is staffing our information booth out in the community, Pat is upstairs making nametags for an upcoming event and Nathan is cleaning some of our fish tanks. And that’s a quiet day. With the coming of the warmer weather, on Tuesdays and Thursdays the parking lot will be packed with the cars of garden volunteers and our regular building and grounds volunteers, otherwise known as the O.W.L.S. (You’ll have to come down to Audubon to find out about that abbreviation.)

Why do they do it? I won’t dare write of list of what motivates volunteers to donate their time. First, the list would be too long and second, I most definitely would miss something. However, in reflecting on the reasons why I volunteer and in observing other volunteers I do know that the reasons exceed “making a difference”.

For many, volunteering is social. I was pleased to see so many volunteers attend our pancake breakfast earlier this month. Staff cooked and served breakfast for our volunteers with support from Bob Evans in Jamestown, Wegmans and Big Tree Maple. It gave me joy to introduce volunteers to one another, discuss upcoming projects and see people lingering at their tables enjoying each other’s company. Our mission is to connect people to nature, but as I think through our volunteer program, we also connect people to people.

In our society, we tend to be defined by what we do for a living. How many times have you been introduced at a party and some asks, “So what do you do?” We are more than just our job title and our paycheck. Volunteering can be a way to express and share your passion that may not be available to you in the work place. It can be a venue to learn a new skill or meet new people. And it can be a way to make a difference.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, approximately 26% of Americans volunteer their time with an organization. That is about 64.3 million Americans who provided 7.9 billion hours of service valued at $171 billion.

What make those numbers more meaningful is that volunteering is really a recreational activity. While there are several business in our community that offer volunteer opportunities on-the-clock, many people choose to volunteer in their free time. That means that they are choosing to not spend their time doing other things such as watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, playing sports, cleaning, shopping or more.

I’m grateful and pleased that in this past year over 300 volunteers put in more than 9600 hours at Audubon. And that only includes the hours they signed in for. Audubon would not be able to offer programs and host events, maintain the trails and gardens, communicate with our members and participants or care for our animals in the quantity and with the quality we do without volunteers. Thank you.

After the success of last year, we are hosting out Volunteer Day again this year on Saturday, April 20, 2013. Registration is at 8:30 inside the nature center and it’s free. We will explain what work we have planned and volunteers can pick their work team. And then we’re off to work! We’ll break at lunch to get together and share a meal and our stories. We are pleased and grateful to have additional community support this year from Cummins Engine Plant who is sponsoring the event.

So I encourage you, in celebration of an early Earth Day, whatever your motivations may be, to join us on April 20. We’ll work hard, laugh, get dirty, share a good meal, have fun and make a difference. Call Audubon or visit our website to register.

Katie Finch is a naturalist and volunteer coordinator at Audubon.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania. For more information, call (716) 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.