Kelley V. Phillips
One of the greatest gifts you can give is time. It is impossible to know how much time you have available, which makes its value incalculable. There are people, however, who give it away freely without expectation of payment or regard for its unknown measure. Who are these heroes? Volunteers.
Volunteering can take many forms: energy, talent and expertise to name a few. The underlying theme is community. When community members get involved and engage with organizations, their work uplifts everyone.
While the essence of volunteering doesn’t involve payment, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reward. Helping others builds self-esteem. It gives confidence, purpose and sometimes leads to learning new skills. Working with new people creates a sense of belonging, friendship and social bonds. The emotional, mental, physical and social benefits are certainly an interesting compensation.
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One of my favorite volunteering experiences was at a nature center in San Antonio, Texas, helping out on field trips to a wilderness park. The students participating in these field trips came from underserved neighborhoods and had often never been in the woods.
On a school trip, there was a girl who was very excited to see butterflies. It was her favorite animal, even though she did not live in a place conducive to pollinators. She found a square of flowers loaded with flying butterflies and tried to catch one. Instead, I suggested that she stay still and let the butterflies come to her.
She stood beside these bushes for half an hour (which is an eternity for a fourth year). Even when her friends tugged at her shirt trying to get her back on the bus, she remained sculptural. Although she is surrounded by butterflies, much to her dismay (and to my dismay) none have ever landed on her.
Scuffing her shoes as she walked in vain to the bus, she turned once more to gaze wistfully at the woods … and a butterfly landed on her nose. As her striped wings folded up and down, you could see her eyes as wide and sparkling as her smile.
We took a photo and helped her identify it as a tiger swallowtail. I later learned that she took her whole family back to the wild park that weekend and asked them all to stand around the butterfly bushes as well.
Of course, not all volunteering will create precious memories. But, every opportunity has value with short and long term benefits. A good example is the elimination of invasive plant species. Pulling weeds and chopping down unwanted shrubs gives a feeling of instant gratification. You can see the forest floor cleared before your eyes.
In the larger context of the ecosystems of east-central Indiana, removing invasive plant species is critical to restoring forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other habitats. These plants often outperform native Indiana plants (existing in the region before European colonization). Our native wildlife struggle or simply cannot use non-native plants for food. If invasive plants take over, most of the wildlife is found in a desert without food.
Since invasive plant species spread rapidly, eliminating them requires persistence, determination and a large workforce. For Red-tail Land Conservancy, this means a great need for volunteers to help monitor the rapid progress of the plants.
Those interested in volunteering to support ecosystem health can attend Red-tail’s two-day habitat restoration work this fall. Volunteer events take place on Saturday September 25 and Saturday October 23. Both events take place from 10 a.m. to noon and take place at Munsee Woods, a non-public nature reserve about 15 minutes from downtown Muncie. More details about the event can be found at ForTheLand.org/Events. Registration is not compulsory but recommended.
Whether it’s volunteering for a food bank, children’s charity, animal shelter, environmental non-profit or other organizations, there’s something for everyone. Red-tail would like to sincerely thank our volunteers for their donation of time and service. To our friends who have yet to find their perfect volunteering opportunity, we look forward to welcoming you to a world rich in friendship, health, purpose and community.
Kelley V. Phillips is the Communications and Outreach Manager for Red-tail Land Conservancy. She strives to cultivate wonder in nature and take action to protect it.