Fulfill your destiny: volunteer today

Have you heard the CBS news story about the little boy who finds a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel? Like many of us, he first he imagines what he could buy with it. But then, after seeing a U.S. solider and his family in the restaurant, he gives the $20 to the soldier. He said the solider reminded him of his dad who was a solider and killed in Iraq and he wanted to “pay it forward”.

Here’s another. I was teaching in a classroom last week. The program was about trees, the animals that live around trees and how they change with seasons. To set up the program and make it personal, I told a story about how I had a favorite tree. I said I have since moved so I don’t see the tree anymore. But I know what’s going on with the tree because it writes me letters. There are 4 letters, one for each season. Later in the day, one of the boys found me in the school to present me with a picture he painted of me and my tree. He thought I might miss my tree and would like a picture of it.

In both of these stories, tears welled up at the kindness one human being can show another. Humans have the ability to place themselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it would be like to feel that way. That’s empathy. We can identify with another’s needs, sorrows and joys. Not only do we have the ability to empathize but we also have the ability to act- to try to fill another’s needs, comfort their sorrow or rejoice in their happiness. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of growing up to learn that. Note that these two selfless acts were done by children- one age 8 and the other 5.

I see this kindness every day and am frequently the beneficiary of it through our volunteers at Audubon. We had over 250 volunteers put in over 10,000 hours this past year. 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.

Frequently, our volunteers not only do what we ask them but see a need and step in to fill it. They drive their own vehicle and offer to take others so more people can attend a program. They come early just to see if you needed any extra help. They stay late after working the entire day at a festival to help cleanup. They come in at the last minute to make phone calls. They work through the rain to get clean up the gardens before winter.

As staff, we’d like to return, in a small way, the kindness of our volunteers. Audubon is honoring our volunteers at the Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, March 22. Audubon volunteers come to enjoy each other’s company and also a meal prepared by the staff. While you can certainly buy a good breakfast out, it is the celebration of the commitment that our volunteers make to Audubon and to each other that make Pancake Breakfast worth going to. While we intend to feed the body, this breaking of bread together also feeds the soul with gratitude, companionship and a feeling of belonging. So many of our volunteer activities involve food for this reason.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, there are several opportunities to become a volunteer this spring. We are looking for trail guides to help with school fieldtrips. Trail guides lead small groups of students on nature hikes showing them the fascinating, the cool and even the gross things that the outdoor world has to offer. Trail guide training is Thursday, April 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

You can also sign up to participate in Volunteer Day on Saturday, April 19. Join a team to improve habitats and access for visitors with jobs such as pulling invasives, transplanting native trees and prepping the gardens for spring. And you don’t have to be an existing volunteer to join in. And after you work hard, rain or shine, we’ll provide lunch for you.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at Audubon or would like to register for any of these events, contact me. As this cold weather drags on, my heart is warmed by the kindness that we can show one another a kindness that surprises you in an everyday place- school, a restaurant, at work- and makes the world a slightly better place.

Jamestown Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, N.Y., and Warren. Learn more about the center and sanctuary and the many programs and events by visiting jamestownaudubon.org, or call (716) 569-2345.

Katie Finch is a naturalist at Jamestown Audubon.